‘The Renaissance Man’
In his continued effort to educate his ‘noble savage’ companion, the Doctor takes Leela to the Morovanian Museum, housing the pinnacle of human knowledge. Instead, they find an immaculate lawn and a rather empty building. Presiding over the entire installation is Reginald Harcourt, a man who seems to know everything that there is to know.
As the Doctor battles wits with Harcourt, he realizes that the genius’ so-called brilliance is not his own and can be influenced. It also becomes clear that the reality of the entire museum is directed by Harcourt’s imagination. Fueled by every book, every bit of data within the seemingly endless structure, Harcourt aims to be the ideal Renaissance Man, a master of all things.
The return of the Fourth Doctor to the classic program has been a very bizarre experience. Starting with the box set containing The Foe From the Future and The Valley of Death, the main series is composed of incredibly varied material that is at once fanciful, witty and mind-blowing. On the surface Destination: Nerva may seem to be the standard base under siege, but the inclusion of a power-mad colonial British soldier forging a galactic empire adds a certain other quality to it all. Likewise, The Renaissance Man is a story of intelligence matched by absurdity.
The script by Justin Richards (who also penned the excellent Whispers of Terror and The Time of the Daleks) is effervescent with whimsy, featuring a moment when the phone rings and a barking dog on the other line attempts to warn the Doctor of imminent danger. The threat posed by Harcourt is a very real one, a man who seeks to drain all knowledge from others, leaving them dead husks… it’s also deeply flawed. The Doctor cleverly remarks that it is the search for knowledge that makes it valuable. Stealing it outright is a near-carnal endeavor, reducing wisdom to mere collectibles. It is fascinating to see the Doctor introduce random pieces of nonsense into Harcourt’s database which off-sets the whole house of cards and sends reality teetering on the edge of destruction.
A fascinating and fun-loving adventure, I enjoyed The Renaissance Man a great deal. Again, it felt like slipping into a pair of warn comfy slippers made out of the Graham Williams era of the program when it was weird and different. Guest-star Ian McNeice is amazing as Harcourt and far more entertaining in this than he was as Churchill on screen, but in my opinion the material he has to work with is so much better.
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