The Doctor must go to desperate measures to prevent the TARDIS from being buried in soapsuds—sorry, I mean lava—as they leave the planet Dulkis, but this takes them out of normal space-time. None of the ship’s meters measure anything and they appear to be nowhere. Zoe, at least, changes into a tight, sparkly cat-suit. Jamie sees Scotland on the screen, Zoe sees her home planet. She opens the door and steps out into white nothing, and Jamie runs after her. When he catches up to her they are in a sea of featureless white and don’t know how to get back. Cardboard robots have them surrounded. Finally, the Doctor steps out, calling: Think only of the TARDIS; It’s the only real thing here. They make their way back inside and the Doctor shuts the door.
The TARDIS flies to pieces. They cling to the console, which slowly spins around. This scene is well-remembered because every rotation gave the audience a perfect view of Zoe’s perfect bottom. The scene fades out and the time-travellers find themselves in a dark forest. Jamie meets a redcoat, who shoots him. Zoe walks into a black room, falls, and screams. Someone is watching them on a monitor. The Doctor awakes in the forest and hears them call. An armed Englishman from 1699, accused of being a highwayman, warns the Doctor to beware of the Master before he disappears. The Doctor is then surrounded by children posing riddles, until they disappear because it is tea-time. He finds Jamie, but it is only a cardboard cut-out, without a face. The Doctor finds a board with features from human faces for him to stick on, but he does it wrong and Jamie comes alive with a different face. This happened because Frazer Hines, after a visit from his nephews, came down with chicken pox, but it was necessary to begin filming immediately, so they found a Scottish actor (Hamish Wilson) who looked nothing like him to play the part for one week. Fortunately, Wilson was a big fan and knew how to move and talk just like Hines, so the trick worked brilliantly.
Zoe appears; she and The Doctor hear Jamie behind a door, which is not a door—it is a jar--so they open the lid of the jar and Jamie pops out. Zoe is puzzled by his new face. He climbs a tree-trunk to look at the lay of the land and finds that the forest is made of huge block-print letters. Robots are heard approaching. They look like toy soldiers, with keys in their backs. A unicorn charges them. The Doctor says: Hold your ground; it doesn’t exist, and it stops. Pushing through a kind of webbed Mirkwood, the Doctor finds that Jamie is again a cut-out, so he changes his face back.
They go into an old dark house with squeaky doors and cobwebs. There is a maze, but the Doctor has a thread and they use it to trace their passage, Ariadne-like, until they are confronted by the Minotaur. They doubt its existence and it vanishes. The Englishman turns up again and the Doctor realizes he is Lemuel Gulliver. Every line the actor (Bernard Horsfall) speaks is a word-for-word quote from Gulliver’s travels. The Doctor knows by now that the whole world they are trapped in is populated by fictional characters. They are again approached by marching toy soldiers. Jamie climbs a mountain to escape, grabs a rope near the top, and finds it is Rapunzel’s (Christine Pirie) hair. The Doctor and Zoe are threatened by the Medusa (Sue Pulford) whose serpent-locks are done in excellent Harryhausen-like stop motion. The Doctor has a mirror in his pocket, which saves them from being turned to stone. Gulliver appears again, and they are threatened by white robots, but Gulliver cannot see to fight them because there are no robots in his book. Then they are attacked by a muscled superhero Ze Karkus (Christopher Robbie) armed with a Buck-Rogers-type ray gun. The Doctor makes the gun disappear by denying it could work, but cannot deny the character’s existence because he’s never heard of him (What?) but Zoe, who comes from the future, knows all about him and beats the crap out of him. The Kung-Fu style battle, involving a five-foot slip of a girl versus a 6-foot-8 guy built like Captain America, is quite astonishing.
The Doctor and Zoe enter Rapunzel’s Castle and find Jamie. They also find The Master (Emrys Jones), a writer of pulp fiction trapped in this world who has been testing them the whole time. A loss would mean being turned into fictional characters, and that is precisely what threatens Zoe and Jamie as a huge book begins to close upon them, unless the Doctor agrees to take The Master’s place. The Doctor is connected to the brain of the world but challenges The Master to a write-off. They create various characters to battle it out. Cyrano faces off against D’Artagnan in a fierce swordfight (John Greenwood vs. David Cannon). The Doctor wins, of course, the TARDIS is restored, and all is well.
You may have gathered that I like this story a lot, and it was very popular when it first aired, particularly among children. Patrick Troughton’s clownish Doctor, who was constantly pulling the precisely necessary item out of his pockets, like Captain Kangaroo—My God, I’m dating myself--fit the story quite well. It was an experiment in hiring writers who were not science-fiction writers, and they went to town. It is gratifying that this was one of the seven Troughton stories (out of twenty-one) that survived the CBC Library Purge completely intact.