Hello everyone, the Historian here, with many apologies for the lateness of this post. Since we'd decided to review this episode in our somewhat silly transcript format, I haven't actually started writing the summary until today. Again, apologies and thanks to our loyal readers! (With a special thanks to reader Richard! We love comments!)
A couple of notes before we get to the summary. We still haven't quite solved the technical "we only want to hide the summary" problem. Again, if anyone has any ideas, feel free to let us know. Also, a word about the "transcript;" things got pretty crazy for a bit, so poor typing Ketina had a hard time. Thus, things might be a bit more paraphrased than exact this time. But she did an admirable job of getting the gist!
Now, with all of that out of the way, on to the summary!
Episode summary: First aired 20 February 1965. The Doctor stares at the space where the TARDIS used to be. "My ship," he says. "My TARDIS..."
Barbara, still hypnotised, walks straight towards the pool of acid. At nearly the last moment, a Zarbi (the ant-like creatures) appears, waves one of its arms and sends out one of the strange noises. Barbara stops, turns slightly, and skirts the edge of the pool. She continues walking forward, obviously controlled.
Ian is lying, covered by what seems to be dust and webs. The Doctor runs over and helps him up. Ian's face is covered with blisters from the weed net, which seems to have retracted into the ground. When Ian suggests they go back to the TARDIS to try and leave this accursed place, the Doctor is forced to tell him the bad news--the ship has vanished!
Barbara walks on, not seeing another strange creature who has walked up behind her. It looks like a giant moth or butterfly, with beautiful wings and light and dark markings on its body and face. With strange alien, yet graceful movements, it begins to surruptitiously follow Barbara.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has channeled his despair into anger, declaring that no matter who has taken his ship, they can never get into it! The effort seems to give him breathing problems; concerned, Ian asks if their Atmospheric Density Jackets might have stopped working. The Doctor confirms this, saying that they're only useful for short periods. Ian suggests that they take the ADJs off and try to get used to the lower density atmosphere, which is breathable. They do this...and then notice some marks in the sand--marks that look like the TARDIS had been dragged away! The two men begin to follow the trail.
And, indeed, the TARDIS is being dragged, by some unseen force, though the Zarbi seem to be waving their arms to "steer" the ship. Inside, Vicki is buffetted around by the movement, finally clutching the console for support. On the scanner screen, she gets her first glimpse of a Zarbi and her eyes widen in fear!
The butterfly-like creature continues to follow Barbara, then catches up and guides her into a cave. She puts up no resistance as it brings her into the cave and sits her down on a rock. Inside are two more of the creatures. As Barbara hears a signal and tries to rise and leave, one of the creatures takes the gold bracelet off her arm and throws it into an acid pool. Barbara immediately "wakes up" and is surprised by where she is. She sees the creatures and tries to run, but they block her path. One of them, in a high, calm voice tells her to stop.
Ian and the Doctor, meanwhile, have lost track of the TARDIS' path. The Doctor, examining the ground, finds what look like claw tracks. Ian has wandered away and stepped into what looks like the hollow shell of some insect, perfectly preseved. He calls the Doctor over, who looks at the creature. The word "Menoptra" pops into his head which, along with the strange rock formations suggest to the Doctor that they are on the planet Vortis, in the Isop galaxy. But Vortis has no moon and there are several in the sky! How could this planet be Vortis? The two continue their exploration.
The TARDIS approaches what looks like an organic structure. As Vicki, desperately, wishes for help, the ship is brought inside the structure...
Barbara is telling her story to the three butterfly creatures. There is much debate between them what to do with her, as she tries to convince them she means no harm. It seems the creatures, called Menoptra, have come to Vortis to oppose the Zarbi. They had taken control of Barbara, who suggests that, perhaps, she and her friends could help. One of the Menoptra, Hrhoonda, does not trust Barbara and suggests killing her before she can give them away to the Zarbi. The other, Vrestin (who appears to be the expedition leader) does not agree. As they argue, Barbara trips her guard, the third called Hrostar, and runs out of the cave. Although she trips, she continues to run..as we hear the Zarbi's calls all around her.
The Doctor and Ian continue to explore. Ian points to an Aurora-like light in the sky, which the Doctor suggests couldn't be natural. The Doctor points down to where the organic structure is, on the plain below them. Suddenly, the pair are surrounded by chittering Zarbi and the grub-like insects! Ian, clearly terrified, suggests trying to communicate, but the Doctor dismisses this and suggests they do what the Zarbi seem to want them to. The ant-like creatures start to herd the two towards the structure...
Inside the ship, the doors slowly open. Vicki, hoping that Ian or the Doctor are outside, slowly walks out and finds herself in a room that looks more grown than built. She seems to be alone, but suddenly two Zarbi cut her off from the TARDIS and herd her into the opposite corner!
Outside, the Doctor and Ian have made it to the structure. Both are intrigued by the fact that it still appears to be growing, reproducing itself. It must have taken hundreds of years to get this big. The two are pushed inside.
A Zarbi approaches the ship's open doors, but seems to have a problem crossing the threshold and withdraws. Just then, the Doctor and Ian appear, to the relieved delight of Vicki, who tells them she does not know where Barbara is. The Doctor is possibly even more relieved to see the TARDIS. He rounds on the Zarbi and demands to know what it is they want.
Barbara has continued running...right into a group of Zarbi, who capture her!
Back at the cave, the Menoptra argue about whether to use their crystal radio to break radio silence to communicate with their invasion fleet. Although this will alert the Zarbi to their presence, Vrestin insists that their forces must be warned of the power of the "Animus," as well as the "strength of the larvae gun." As Hrhoonda guards, Vrestin and Hrostar use the radio to contact the fleet...with no answer. The fleet will not break silence--or are the signals blocked by the cave walls? Before they can find out, Hrhoonda calls that the Zarbi have found them! They are being led by an entranced Barbara, who has what looks like a golden collar around her neck. In the ensuing fight, Vrestin tries to destroy their radio, while one of the grub-like creatures--obviously a "larvae gun"--shoots at Hrhoonda, who falls to the ground. Hrostar manages to grab Barbara and take her to an alcove, where it carefully removes the collar from her neck and throws it on the ground. She immediately wakes up and it explains that, through gold, the Zarbi can exert its control. Barbara realizes that this explains her being controlled by her bracelet as well. Although Vrestin seems to have gotten away, Hrostar and Barbara are captives of the Zarbi. Hrostar tells Barbara that they will be taken to the Crater of Needles and put to work. The Zarbi push Hrostar to the ground as a larvae gun approaches its wings. Barbara turns away so as not to see what is done to her new friend...
Back inside the organic structure, the Doctor is trying and failing to use hand signals to communicate with the Zarbi. Finally, a sound and light is seen on one of the walls and the Zarbi herd the Doctor to the center of the room. A hollow, transparent cylindar is lowered over the Doctor's head and he can suddenly hear a calm, female voice asking him "Why do you come now?" Shock shows on the Doctor's face....
This week, once again we dig into the stream of consciousness behind the TARDIS project. Attending were The Historian, Ketina, Ronelyn, and Spoo. (Typing and some paraphrasing by Ketina.)
Ronelyn: (In Seinefeld voice) "so what is the deal with all these Zarbi? They have human legs and ants for heads and it just doesn't make any sense. It's crazy."
Historian: Well, now that we have that out of the way, let's welcome Spoo to his first discussion post.
Spoo: Hi. Well, I liked the costumes. Okay, so the Menoptra, the bees.
H: The moths... sure
S: Sure, sure. Their wings were awesome. On first glance they were snort giggle inspiring, but the actors did a great job with them.
H: Well, one of the people portaying the Minoptra was a dancer who was hired to create the insect movement.
R: Which also explains why the set looked like a cross between a Kabuki show and a Martha Graham theatre piece.
H: I'm not so sure the fact that they hired a dancer had anything to do with the set.
S: There's one shot, where they're climbing the mountain and we see the rock face at a really bad angle and it's the most cardboard we've seen so far.
H: And I remember seeing the seam in the Matte painting.
Ketina: Yeah, I remember the seam from last week.
H: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I love this story, and I love it because it's the most experimental up until this point in time, and possibly the most experimental the show ever got. They tried to do something with completely alien characters, not just humans in masks. They don't move properly, speak properly...
R: Or speak at all.
H: Thanks to the synthesizer.
S: And I liked that the Doctor tried and failed to communicate with the Zarbi.
R: "We can dance if we want to..."
H: Let's talk about some specifics.
S: Up to this point, in Whovian History, did they establish the TARDIS translation effect?
S: That the TARDIS translates for them.
H: No, that isn't mentioned in the "Classic Series" until the Tom Baker episode "the Mask of the Mandragora." [...discussion ensues that wasn't relevent to this episode.]
R: "It is light earths for your.. like years from your earth." [Historian's note: the actual spoken line, according to an episode transcript, was "Yes...many light ear...many light...years...from Earth." So Ronelyn was pretty darn close!]
H: Yes, yet another 'Billy Fluff." Anyway, the important thing is, as weird as this is, the story doesn't get lost.
S: The moment that the Manamana--
H: The Menoptra?
S: Yeah. Could speak to each other, and we got the back story, and we got the sense that we're in the middle of something happening, we've got the story.
H: Yes, now we see their are two sides, the Menoptra and the Zarbi. And of course the TARDIS crew in the middle. And I really like the idea of the crystaline radio that the Menoptra used. It reinforces the crystaline structures on the planet and that they're insects.
S: And crystals and radios make sense.
R: "I'm talking on my crystline radio" *to the tune of "Mexican Radio"*
H: And we know there's a Menoptra invasion fleet coming. We assume they're the good guys because they helped Barbara..
R: Well, they're the less worse guys.
K: I don't know that the Menoptra are the "good guys" or even less worse guys. They threatened to kill Barbara.
H: But, they thought Barbara would give them away to the Zarbi.
Everyone: Which, she did.
H: Although, admitedly, she wasn't in her right mind at the time.
K: They're too pretty. I think the Menoptra are the bad guys, and they're trying to do a double bluff with the plot making us THINK that the Zarbi are the bad guys.
H: So, the Zarbi capturing them, mutilating them, and taking them off to the Crater of Needles, tipped them off that the Zarbi are the good guys? Did they say they're mining something there? Oh, god, not the core of the planet, not the core of the planet, please.
S: Interupting tangent... Why is the TARDIS perpetually left unlocked and so easily entered by everybody?
H: It isn't. This time their was no power. The power isn't on. We don't know what the force is opening the doors.. presumably that will be explained.
S: He's a master of time and space, but locks elude him.
H: I believe that at this point he SAYS he's a master of time and space.
S: Maybe he's a master of time or space, just never both.
H: And never forget crazy old man.
R: "Haha.. Chesterton! Ha ha, my teeth..."
H: But, note that this episode Hartnell's portrayal is really different than last episode. Last episode he's excited, manic, and some of us thought way over the top. This episode he really dials it back.
S: His TARDIS was stolen.
H: Exactly, it's no longer a game.
S: Even so, when they get to the Zarbi hideout, he does go all sciency about the larva on the outside.
H: It's growing!
S: "Hundred? Two hundred years? It's growing!"
H: But he's still very serious. The end of last week's episode you could see the fear. Speaking of the cliff hangers from last week--
R: "oh, you want me to go here?"
H: Barbara's walking to the pool of acid and the Zarbi stearing her away kind of deflated that cliff hanger.
R: "No, you're going to drive her into a ditch. Here, let me steer."
S: Last week Ian was all benetted, and this week it's all dissolved and he's got a case of the hives.
H: They explained it.
S: It was still...
S: Arbitrary. Someone take control of this plot, please.
H: Well, but the plot itself I think so far has been very strong. They really build up this mystery. They're building up this six episode story really well.
K: Please, no chasm! No chasms!
S: They're not blowing an episode in a quary.
H: So far.
S: They needed to decide what story their going to tell, and they got to that at the end. Another advantage of seeing it as originally intended... I would have given up on the story if this was part of one really long episode. It would have meandered too much into the weird.
H: Spoiler alert - it does get weirder.
S: Bu... alright.
R: So, Kabuki butterflies weren't weird enough?
H: Okay. The outfits don't look Kabuki at all to me. But that's your interpretation, I guess. But yes, it does get weirder.
S: Is there any purpose to Ian being the one to figure out and talk through breathing on the alien planet, other than let's give Ian something to do this week? Because you would think that the Doctor, who's travelled on alien planets would have been the one to figure that out?
H: Ian is presented as the stronger guy, the man of action. And the Doctor was all weakened. It fits with Ian's character very well being pragmatic.
S: It just seems strange that Ian, who's been to only a few alien planets, to be the one to figure it out.
H: So, a couple of things that we haven't mentioned yet. We haven't talked about that there's some force that can move the TARDIS across the landscape.
S: Ants. They pushed it. They're ants, really strong.
R: We don't actually see that. There's a Zarbi by it when we first start seeing it moving, but after that it's just "dun dun dun.. dun dun dun.. lonely TAR-DI-S moving across the landscape."
H: Yes, some force is obviously moving it.
S: Ants dragging...
*discussion devolves into Dave Mathews Band jokes...*
H: So, something that I wanted to say, she gets the most thankless task in the entire episode: poor Vicki. She gets to stumble around the console room that is not moving. She gets to react to seeing the Zarbi on the monitor. But then there's the best directed moment of the episode: The camera is focused on a corner, the camera pans slowly across the wall to Vicki in the other corner. She's standing looking around, looking shocked, and then the Zarbi hurd her into the first corner. And then she yelps.
K: She screams.
H: It's a yelp.
S: You say yelp, we say scream. It's like the eskimo's 40 words for snow.
H: That's a myth.
S: Still, that's her role. Just as Ian represents Mr. Guy, she represents Eeek!
H: Not entirely.
S: Represents Ooh?
H: She didn't really have much to do in this one. She had so much to do in the Romans.
S: So, she needed a break. Again, helping me make my point. :P
H: And then there's the big mystery at the end.
S: Given how they changed their mind at the end of the last episode, who knows what it is...
H: With the translation cone coming down and someone talking to the Doctor. Apparently it's whoever is in charge of who controls or rules the Zarbi.
S: Or it's the Zarbi going, okay, he didn't get the leg rubbing thing, we didn't get the miming thing, let's break out the cone.
H: But it's the ability to communicate with whatever is controlling the Zarbi which might give a resolution to Ketina's question about who's on what side.
K: That's sort of why I think the Zarbi might actually be the good guys.
S: Because their making an effort to talk?
H: But so did the Menoptra.
R: Until Barbara stabbed one of them.
H: She tripped him.
R: Oh, is that what it was? It looked like she stabbed him, he dropped so solidly.
K: Probably due to the costume. But anyway... okay, I know the Historian here is totally cheating...
H: I saw it what, 3 or 4 years ago...
K: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So of course, you KNOW who the real bad guys are...
H: And I'm trying not to say.
K: So stop arguing with me about it! You win, you know the answer!
H: I'm just saying that the next episode we might get a better idea of what they are and what they do. It's not winning or losing!
*we can not convey the "you are wrong" song that Spoo and Ronelyn start singing, except it's to the tune of the Doctor Who theme* [Historian's note: This was not the first time the two had come up with this impromptu song during this discussion...]
K: ANYWAY, we got moths and ants. An..and they're creepy.
H: Fair enough.
H: Okay, see everybody back next week. Hope you enjoyed this. Please let us know if you NEVER want us to do this again. :)
NEXT WEEK: "ESCAPE TO DANGER"