Reviewed By: Drew Vogel
Review Date: 8/16/17 3:06 pm
0 out of 1 found this review helpful.
In my review of "Weapon of Choice", I talked about how "Gallifrey" was only political in a very superficial way. That was meant to be an observation rather than a criticism (although I would have personally preferred it if "Gallifrey" had been genuinely political, that's merely a matter of taste). However, there are consequences to using politics as a plot device without really engaging substantively with the issues you're throwing around. This episode, more than any previous, illustrates this downside.
The inciting event of this episode is a terrorist attack against the Time Lord Academy. Darkel's response to this deadly atrocity is peculiar to say the least. Without even waiting for the dust to settle (and I mean that quite literally), she immediately blames Gallifreyans who are unhappy with Romana's policy of allowing alien students to attend the Academy. She claims to abhor the deadly tactics of terrorism, but understands the motive, and believes that Romana should change her policy to appease the terrorists, or else be responsible for future atrocities. What?!
Imagine, if you can, if Democrats had responded to 9/11 by saying that Bush should immediately shut down U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia. In my experience, responding to a terrorist attack by doing exactly what the terrorists want is not a wise political move. Except, it seems, on Gallifrey. It would have made a lot more sense if Darkel had blamed the terrorist attack on alien students. If such an accusation were considered credible, that would have had the intended effect of increasing public pressure against Romana's liberal policies. Wasn't that the whole point of manipulating a student into apparently threatening the Eye of Harmony in the previous episode? Now, Darkel is arguing that Romana should side with hateful, xenophobic terrorists willing to murder children? I don't think that would be a popular stance to take. (I had a very similar objection to UNIT: "The Longest Night". That story was equally confused about the politics of terrorism.)
The story goes on to show Romana adopting ever more draconian and authoritarian responses in order to try to hold onto power. This is a more believable reaction to terrorism, except that Romana doesn't claim these powers as a means of tightening security, as one might expect. Rather, she adopts the mantle of Imperiatrix in order to force her liberal reforms on an unwilling populace. This is odd to say the least.
I like the fact that this backfires extraordinarily. There's actually a solid political point in that, whether intentional or not. Still, I would have preferred it greatly if Romana would have actually made the case for her vision of a better Gallifrey. But this series just isn't interested in that sort of thing. Look at the so-called "Dogma" virus... a means by which the Free Time organization recruits people to their side not by making a convincing moral or political argument, but by spreading around a virus that somehow makes people susceptible to their influence.
Stepping back from the specifics of this episode to consider the series as a whole, I find that it's much better than the sum of its parts. The overall arc of the series is very effective (and I think Series Two has been a marked improvement over Series One). The gradual corruption of Romana was well-handled, with her situation growing more and more desperate to the point where she was finally forced to abandon all of her democratic principles simply to hold onto power. The fact that this was Pandora's intention all along is effective, if a bit obvious. Certainly, Romana deserves a lot of blame for the mess that Gallifrey is in at this point. While I certainly wouldn't prefer Darkel, let alone Pandora, it has to be said that Romana has been a disastrously bad president.