Sometimes eras of Doctor Who production turn on sharp and pointed elbows, easily seen by fan and casual viewer alike. The change from black and white to color is an obvious example of this, Not only was Season 7 a noted departure in visual quality, but tone as well, from Patrick Troughton’s last go-round, and was more austere as an entirely earth-bound series inevitably had to be.
More often though changes in the production team, and therefore the overall product, are more subtle. The Tour doubts that even most hard-core fans can delineate the differences between Verity Lambert’s sensibilities and those of Innes Lloyd later on. For Tom Baker the move from Barry Letts to Philip Hinchcliffe was noticeable with the buffer story Robot serving as a bridge, but not really all that profound tonally. The Tour would argue that the ‘Hinchcliffe era’ lingered on past Season 14 before sputtering out in Image of the Fendahl. That’s down to Robert Holmes’ influence as much as anything else, but the notice that change was on its way was served with The Invisible Enemy.
As mentioned last time, but often enough by the Tour to be sure, the shift to John Nathan-Turner from Graham Williams producership was one of these more purposeful and abrupt turns in the classic canon, indeed it was, probably given JN-T’s very long tenure with Doctor Who, the last such tonal shift for the classic series, but that didn’t mean embers from the previous regime had been fully excised. That last gasp was manifested in Meglos.
There’s no sugarcoating this. Meglos is a mess. A talking cactus, a strangely bizarre three-piece suited gent, a coat-obsessed vandal in Frederick Treves’ Brotadac, and the third leg of the Doctor Who all-CSO trilogy along with The Claws of Axos and Underworld. Just as with The Leisure Hive, even with generous overruns between episodes, overall underruns it’s allotted time and yet manages to overstay it’s welcome at the same time. Not even the presence of Jacqueline Hill can rescue it.
There’s a neat little game for the Anglophilic to spot when watching British TV, especially long-running series, to see someone from the 60’s or 70’s popping up 30 or 40 years later in something else entirely. For Doctor Who this means catching classic series actors in nu-Who such as Lynda Baron going from The Gunfighters all the way to Closing Time or Mark Eden from Marco Polo to An Adventure in Space and Time. Within the bounds of the classic series only Nick Courtney had a longer run to be sure, and if you don’t count Jean Marsh (and the Tour doesn’t) in the ‘companion class’ then Jacqueline Hill holds the record, at 15 years, between being a companion and appearing elsewhere in the series (or vice-versa).
It’s a nice curiosity, but not enough to save Meglos even for long-term fans. Not even close.