The People's Temple


Books  One of the great mysteries is how Stonehenge was constructed.  Very recently, scientists have decided which Welsh quarry the stones came from.  I looked at a map and it's on the other side of the country.  I moved my finger across the screen -- how did the stones get from there  to there?  It's a fertile idea for a story and I'm surprised Doctor Who hasn't been there before.  In the dark times, before Russell, when I put together my own eight point plan for the future of the tv series (remind me to post it here some time) it was one of my suggested plotlines.  In a way, it's a shame that it's only turned up as one of the Short Trips (1998).  But here we are, as Sam talks The Doctor into taking her to see the 'temple' as it's  being freshly minted, getting mixed up with the ancient builders.

They find themselves in the middle of a cold war between the chieftans who are working towards the contruction of the temple.  It's all very reminiscent of a First Doctor historical as Sam blunders in to help someone who is being sacrificed and somehow manages to start a mini-war between the rival factions.  I can absolutely understand her poor reputation amongst fans as she entirely fails to follow The Doctor's instructions to leave off and go back to the TARDIS.  If he's telling you to this, getting involved would be a really bad idea.  All the way through this section I could hear the Ninth Doctor at the back of my mind shouting 'Just another stupid ape...'

But The Doctor seems out of sorts, fishing about trying to make the best of a bad situation.  You're never sure if he's deliberately going with the flow because he knows the outcome of the situation can only go one way or if writer Paul Leonard doesn't know quite what to do with him because all the exciting stuff is happening to Sam.  Leonard writing is actually very attractive in places though, especially whilst evoking the landscape.  But I think he encounters much the same problem as Sydney Newman in The Tribe of Gum (or whatever that story's being called this week) -- because it's in short form, none of the ancient people are distinctive enough to seperate or make us care for them -- in places it's difficult to tell who is allies with whom.

The ending (probably unavoidably) is a bit of cop out.  Sam realises what she's done and is looking for disproval from The Doctor, but he effectively sweeps what she's done under the carpet -- that the battle would have happened anyway because of the personalities -- she just helped to nudge things along, almost as though he's trying to justify things for himself as well, which is about as alien as I've ever seen or heard the Eighth Doctor be.

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