Dude’s a freakin cactus. What else is there really to say?
So, Meglos. Meglos has gotta be one of the more seriously WTF villains in all of Doctor Who. You have to always hand it to the show when they trot out really and truly different forms of alien life, and Meglos certainly is that. He’s a hyper-intelligent megalomaniacal…cactus. Not like the kinda nifty cactus aliens in the new series that are nevertheless humanoid with faces and limbs and things. No. Like actual honest-to-god cactus. And not like some Audrey II man-eating-plant mockup either. Just…a cactus. Like what the actual crap.
I find that botany is underused in sci fi (and … everywhere else), and as a bit of a botany buff I’m always pleased to see it crop up, as it were. As plants go, a cactus is certainly one of the more threatening - but loses a lot of that by not being strictly ambulatory. This particular episode made a wise choice in avoiding trying to make the cactus itself move, either through terrible modelling or terrible effects, but rather give it the ability to posess people. Why not? And you have to admit that a superintelligent cactus that takes over your body is certainly an …unusual… brand of terror.
I can’t state strongly enough how much I love the fact that the person whose body Meglos chooses to steal is completely non-descript Accountant Man from Earth. He has like…horn-rimmed glasses and everything. And for a completely non-descript Accountant Man from Earth, he puts up an awful lot of fight. (And those scenes are actually really very cool - I like the bit where he starts to separate off, and then Tom Baker!Meglos puts his arm around him and recoalesces). And yeah, despite Meglos inhabiting Accountant Man, he nevertheless manages to take the form of the Doctor, meaning this episode is also known as “The One Where Tom Baker Plays A Megalomaniacal Cactus.” …at least it is to me. And that means that there are frequent scenes of Tom Baker trying to turn back into a cactus, which are really incredibly fun.
The theme of Ancient Villain Trying To Revitalize A Dead World is one that turns up a couple of times across the series, but it’s one that I always kind of like. Meglos shares that same kind of almost tragic questing with Kain in “Dragonfire” (or perhaps Eldrad in “The Hand of Fear”). And, like Kain, he is almost entirely successful, because he really is quite clever for a cactus. Trapping the Doctor and Romana in a time loop is no mean feat - even if they did manage to ultimately escape.
I’m primarily writing about Meglos the character, not “Meglos” the episode, but I should stop and say any excuse to say “dodecahedron” every five to ten minutes is definitely a good one. Add to that Jacqueline Hill (with absolutely epic hair) and the fact that they never, strictly speaking, solve the problem at hand, there’s a lot to like here. Also those people who look like a cross between Thals and that blond Romulan from Star Trek: TNG. I think I may just like episodes with bright colors :P
But yeah. The bottom line is Meglos is a villain…who is a cactus. And that’s. Just. Awesome.