Released February 2015
The Fifth Doctor’s unexpected travels into E-space continue as the TARDIS crashes on Isenfel, a feudal world of snow and ice in which every addition must be balanced with a subtraction. As the E-space tropes of entropy and closed systems take centre stage and the unexpected arrival of the Doctor and his companions throw the balanced world into disarray, the dangers of Isenfel and the power of its secrets slowly become known.
The core concept of ‘Equilibrium’ and the balance of all energies including life forms is an incredibly strong one that carries substantial weight, both hidden and overt. Wisely, writer Matt Fitton doesn’t attempt to shroud the mathematical horror of survival on Isenfel, and the first episode is incredibly effective in portraying the unique plight of the denizens of the world. Of course, the addition of energy to a closed system carries its own consequences as well, and the Doctor’s unintended role in escalating events works quite well, creating a satisfying if distressing allegory to the ecological plight of modern Earth along the way without ever becoming too overt. The idea that Isenfel is an experiment to more rapidly simulate the already-hastening rate of decay and collapse of E-space itself provides yet another layer of dramatic emotional impact, and the subset of the population unwilling to accept its fate rings true in every regard, both before and after the Doctor shuts down the experiment without fully realising what he is doing.
‘Equilibrium’ does well in giving each of the larger TARDIS crew meaningful work as well, the gentlemanly morality of the Fifth Doctor being challenged as he attempts to confront his potential responsibility for ending a civilization, even one that is willing to murder its own people behind its refined veneer. While Nyssa rather easily fits into the royal court, Tegan and she are afforded the opportunity to have rather poignant discussions about the change that they inevitably bring to any world and whether that change is necessarily for the better. It’s a weighted question and certainly there have been the occasional stories that show that the Doctor does not always leave a lasting legacy of good in his wake after his initial intervention for the greater good, but the speed of consequences here lends a unique perspective to the concept. Even Turlough gets to showcase his trademark derisive wit, successfully dabbling with a romantic subplot along the way. At the same time, Joanna Kirkland as Princess Inger, Annette Badland as Queen Karlina, and Nickolas Grace as Balancer Skaarsgard effectively drive the story forward as the royal and common classes collide.
‘Equilibrium’ is a very polished story with wonderful sound design and performances bolstering a strong script featuring an elegantly simple idea with incredibly complex consequences. With the drama intensifying in each episode and firmly setting up the final story of this new E-space trilogy, ‘Equilibrium’ is most certainly a successful second instalment and proves that the innate truth of E-space holds plenty of dramatic potential to fuel this revisitation. Fans of Nyssa should be pleased with the characterization of this older version as her thoughts on motherhood and willingness both to travel with and to leave the Doctor come into focus, but this is a story that successfully balances the crew of four much better than most, creating an immensely enjoyable experience from beginning to end.