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Recap / Doctor Who S18E5 "Warriors' Gate"

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"One good solid hope's worth a cart-load of certainties."
The Doctor
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The one where Doctor Who meets that one part in The Wind Waker.

Written by Steve Gallagher. This four-episode serial first aired from January 3—24, 1981.


The Doctor, Romana, K-9 and Adric are still stuck in E-Space. While they're trying to figure out a way back into N-Space (our universe), the TARDIS is hijacked by a lion-headed Humanoid Alien that walks in through the TARDIS doors while the TARDIS is still in flight. The alien brings the TARDIS to land, announces that his name is Biroc and that they should not trust the people they are about to meet, and departs as mysteriously as he came.

Our heroes find themselves in a Blank White Void, empty except for the TARDIS, a stranded spaceship (whose crew, led by Captain Rorvik, are indeed untrustworthy), and an incongruous ruined stone building.

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Many confusing things happen. And Adric flips coins a lot.

It turns out that the void is some kind of pocket dimension that is on (or, perhaps, somehow is) the boundary between N-Space and E-Space. When they eventually find the way out, consequently, our heroes are able to choose which way out to go. The Doctor and Adric return to N-Space in the TARDIS, while Romana and K-9 decide to return to E-Space and help Biroc in his continuing quest.


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  • Age Cut (In-Universe): The Doctor has a vision of a past where he's having a Fancy Dinner with the Tharils, and it's revealed the Tharils once used their powers to raid other worlds for plunder and slaves. Then axe-wielding Robot Soldiers burst through the doors and start slaughtering the Tharils; an axe slams down into the table in front of the Doctor, who suddenly finds himself at the same table in the present day, with axe and table covered in Cobwebs of Disuse. And surrounded by surprised and angry human slavers...
  • Alice Allusion: When Biroc vanishes during a conversation with the Doctor, the Doctor states that he is gone again, which is "like talking to a Cheshire Cat". Also, the Doctor goes through a looking glass at one point.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelisation shows how the Privateer came to be damaged; it was attacked by an anti-slaver patrol pilot who was secretly aiming his energy torpedoes so the detonation would overload the lightspeed drive, destroying the slaver when it tries a Hyperspeed Escape. He's at too far a range however and the near-miss only cripples it; when the privateer attempts a Blind Jump to escape, they end up in their present predicament.
  • Almost Dead Guy: "The secret to the gateway is... [thud]"
  • Animated Armour: The Gundan robots are designed to resemble decorative suits of armour when they're at rest (and are mistaken for such before their true nature is revealed).
  • Arbitrary Scepticism: Rorvik and his crew are convinced that Romana has to be a time-sensitive like the Tharils despite her explaining that her ship's navigation system operates on a different principle (to be fair, she is a time sensitive, but that has nothing to do with the TARDIS's ability to work).
  • Art Imitates Art: The Gate is exactly copied from the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich's Klosterfriedhof im Schnee (Monastery Graveyard in the Snow).
  • BFG: Adric holds off the slave traders with their own giant cannon, the MZ. "I don't know what these levers do...but it's pointing in your direction."
  • Big Bad: Captain Rorvik.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humour: The privateer crew are, according to John Nathan-Turner, based on Stephen Gallagher's many tribulations while writing at Granada TV, and the poor work ethic he found there.
  • Blank White Void: The entire N-space/E-space boundary.
  • Cassandra Truth: K9 keeps warning the slavers and anyone else in earshot that their pocket dimension is collapsing. However, due to his damaged state, his messages come across as gibberish. Only the Doctor realizes what he's trying to say.
  • Chromosome Casting: Romana is the only speaking female character in this story. A female Tharil and a slave woman are briefly seen.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: The banquet hall and the suits of armour (which are actually the Gundan robots) are covered in cobwebs when the Doctor finds them. Particularly noticeable when he and Romana flash-forward in time from the past to the future; with the dinner table suddenly covered in cobwebs.
  • Deadly Dodging: With a Gundan on either side of him, the Doctor bows down and awaits his fate. The Gundans obligingly whack each other with their axes.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Some of the weirder parts of the story, for thematically-appropriate but difficult-to-summarize reasons.
  • Delicious Distraction: Rorvik is trying to brief his men on the very dangerous procedure they're about to carry out with the big laser cannon, but they're more interested in their lunch until their boss draws a gun on them.
  • Distressed Dude: All the Tharil prisoners we see are male.
  • Enslaved Elves: The Tharils have power over time itself, and are enslaved by Rorvik and his ilk.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Subverted; Rorvik has the required scenery-chewing villainy, but he's constantly undercut by his apathetic crew.
  • Expo Speak Gag: Rorvik’s crew have trouble communicating.
    Packard: Make safe the hatchway.
    Crewmember: What?
    Packard: Close the door.
    *door closes*
    *door opens again, somewhat sheepishly*
    • And this scene, wherein K9 describes his current predicament.
      K9: The accuracy of this unit has deteriorated below zero utility.
      Adric: You mean you're worse than useless.
      K9: Affirmative.
  • Feudal Future: The Tharils' empire in its heyday.
  • Flat Joy: Aldo and Royce early in the first episode, establishing the general level of enthusiasm among Rorvik's crew.
  • Galactic Superpower: The Tharils who used to have an empire spanning many star systems. After a revolt, they were reduced to their current slavery.
  • Gravity Sucks
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Between the Privateer crew and the Tharils. Rorvik and his crew have the air of ordinary people just doing their job. Of course, that job is slavers, but as it turns out, the Tharils themselves were slavers of humans in the past.
  • Hand Signals: Romana tells Adric not to come out if she gives the danger signal...then mimes putting her hands up. She chooses to go with Rorvik and his men voluntarily but is still suspicious of them, so she makes a stretching gesture that includes the signal.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: According to the backstory, when the Tharils' slaves overthrew their masters, they crushed them under their own heels.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Zigzagged, as the aliens they are enslaving did the same to others.
  • I Choose to Stay: Romana, though this is her official departure on-screen, it is well-chronicled in the Expanded Universe that she eventually comes back and becomes Lady President of Gallifrey.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "You were the noblest Romana of them all." (Compare Julius Caesar V.v)
  • In the Doldrums: The titular setting of the serial. A subversion of sorts as doing nothing is the only way to get out.
  • Karmic Death: Sagan electrocutes several Tharils to death, and is then himself electrocuted.
  • Kill 'Em All: The privateer crew are wiped out when the ship explodes.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The Gundan is beheaded by his ally before he can reveal the secret of the gateway.
  • Killer Robot: The Gundan robots. Built by those enslaved by the Tharils as a weapon that was unaffected by the time winds.
  • Kilroy Was Here: Written on a wall inside the spaceship. It's later mentioned that one of the crew actually is named Kilroy.
  • King of Beasts: The leonine Tharils were once kings.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Toward the midpoint of Episodes 3 and 4, the ragtag crew of the Privateer suddenly lose everything that made them funny and likable, and become incredibly cold and efficient.
  • Made a Slave: The Tharls had enslaved people in the past — "The weak enslave themselves" — and now are slaves themselves. The Doctor gives them an Ironic Echo, and one concedes the justice, but they have suffered enough.
  • Made of Indestructium: The hull of the slaver ship is made of dwarf star alloy to stop the Tharils from using their powers to escape. This dense matter causes the Pocket Dimension to collapse in on itself.
  • Magic Mirror: How the Tharils and the Doctor get out of the void.
  • Match Cut: During the sequence where the Doctor is seeing the banquet hall at the height of its glory, there are several match cuts between that version of the hall and the run-down, cobweb-festooned ruin the rest of the characters are experiencing.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The Tharils are thralls to the Privateer crew.
    • Antonine Killer in the novelisation believes in living up to his name, aiming his shots so as to destroy the slaver vessels he's tasked with capturing.
  • Mind Screw: So, imagine you're in a cubby-hole you found behind a mirror, and that hole is in a different universe from the main room. Seriously, don't think about that too long, or you know what will happen.
  • Mythology Gag: The blank white space between the worlds recalls the first episode of "The Mind Robber."
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: The privateer's computer shows the TARDIS as a rotating wireframe graphic. According to the DVD commentary, this wasn't even computer-generated; it was done by filming an actual wireframe model.
  • Out of Focus: Adric has little to do in this story, and is ordered to stay in the TARDIS during the climax of the final episode.
  • Place Beyond Time: A strange creature forces its way into the TARDIS, steering it to a white void occupied only by the ruins of an old building and a spaceship. This empty space is a gateway to the past and future.
  • Pocket Dimension: The is set inside an even smaller pocket dimension than E-Space — small enough to cross on foot — on the border between E-Space and N-Space.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: In the worst sense. The privateer slavers think nothing of using the Tharils as ballast. Once they figure out that Romana is "time-sensitive', they immediately stop treating her like a sentient being and toss her into the clink, too.
  • Put on a Bus: Romana makes her last TV appearance; Big Finish later revealed she found a way out of E-Space and wound up succeeding Flavia as president of Gallifrey.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The reason for the Tharils' plight. An army of Killer Robot soldiers attacked them mid-feast.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: Doing nothing (Tharils) vs. doing something (Rorvik) becomes an arc over the four episodes. In Rorvik's case, "doing something" resulted in the destruction of his ship and crew.
  • Shipless Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Tharils can travel through the space-time Vortex without needing a ship of any kind. An early scene has the Doctor and Romana being shocked when a Tharil casually walks into the TARDIS console room while they are in flight.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slave Race: The Tharils, but this wasn't always the case.
  • Space Trucker: The privateer crew embody the spirit, if not the letter, or this trope.
  • Speed Echoes: Biroc, heading to and from the TARDIS, to indicate his movement through the time winds.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: The Doctor's reply when Adric asks if Romana will be all right. "''All right?!'' She'll be superb." The little pause in between the two lines subtly shows the Doctor's absolute heartbreak.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: What happens when Rorvik tries to use the ship's exhaust blast against the mirror.
  • Supernormal Bindings: The shackles made from dwarf star alloy, used to prevent the enslaved Tharils slipping away into the timestream.
  • Those Two Guys: Aldo and Royce, the resident Bumbling Henchman Duo.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Rorvik ignores all advice and ends up crushing his ship into nothing.
  • Used Future: The spaceship clearly comes from one, with the general rundown look and sparse paint.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Rorvik when the Tharils prepare to rebel with the Doctor’s help. "I'm FINALLY GETTING SOMETHING DONE!"
  • Visible Boom Mic: When Lane informs Packard of Romana's escape in part three, a boom microphone comes into shot right next to the MZ laser.
  • Void Between the Worlds: The main setting. Complete with Gateway for the Doctor to return home.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Rorvik tries this to destroy the Gateway. It doesn't end well.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: The Doctor eventually realises the way to defeat Rorvik is simply to give him enough rope to hang himself.

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