This four-part tale that aired from 24 November to 15 December, 1979, was written by Bob Baker, and takes a pretty broad and strong “Just Say No” to drugs stance in this story that sees the Doctor, Romana (Lalla Ward) and K9 arriving on the space cruiser Empress.
It seems the Empress collided and became entangled with another ship, the Hectate when it came out of hyperspace. The Hectate is carrying a device called a CET that has begin releasing monsters known as Mandrels, which only complicates matters when the Doctor learns someone aboard the Empress is smuggling a highly addictive drug known as vraxoin.
The Doctor and Romana arrived simply to help the ships extricate themselves from one another, but when one of the crew members who is supposed to be helping the Doctor seems more intent on getting his next hit instead of assisting the Time Lord, the Doctor gets involved with more than separating the ships.
Romana is investigating the CET and learns that the life collected on various planets are all trapped within it. This story point is only really on hand to give us a monster (besides the drug) to be scared of, but the drug story is the main arc. Although the Doctor also has some serious problems with the CET and those who are collecting specimens.
The Doctor is less jovial this time around, but the rapid-fire way of speaking and attitude is still there. This one is played pretty straight.
As the Mandrels start appearing, interfering with the plans to separate the ships, the Doctor continues his hunt for the drug, and those who are smuggling it. And they are not afraid to hurt others to keep a hold of their stash, as the Doctor learns firsthand.
The Doctor comes up with a plan to separate the ships by using the TARDIS. Once again, this story doesn’t let Romana do enough, she should definitely be his equal, but sadly, is never written that way. She should be coming to as many conclusions and ideas as he is, sure he’s older than her, but she was one of the brightest in her class.
Complications keep getting added on when law enforcement of a sort arrive, but they seem so bound up in procedure that they aren’t wiling to listen to anything the Doctor has to say.
As things get puzzled out, the Doctor begins to suspect that the CET, and one of the planets that the expedition visited and cataloged, Eden, may be the new source for vraxoin. So, of course, utilizing the CET, they go to Eden… and then while confronting Mandrels, and trying to stop the drug flow after discovering the source, they come up with a plan to extricate the two ships from one another and stop the smugglers.
It tends to be a solid story, well-written, and fast-paced, but lacking a lot of the humor that has interlaced not only Doctor Who in general, but Baker’s Doctor specifically. That doesn’t make it bad, it just means it’s a bit different but is still very much Doctor Who.
Next time, the Doctor and Romana encounter The Horns of Nimon in the final episode of season 17.