A review of the DVD for Doctor Who Magazine, from 2008.
There is a psychological response known as Stockholm Syndrome, which identifies the behaviour of a hostage who develops strong feelings of emotional attachment to their kidnapper, no matter how terrible the acts of cruelty perpetrated upon them.
2008 has proved to be The Year Of Terence Dudley, with three of his four Doctor Who stories released on DVD. Following the anaemic Black Orchid and K9 and Company – which at least have brevity on their side – we now have Dudley’s magnum opus, 1982’s Four To Doomsday. The fact your reviewer finds so much to enjoy in this serial suggests that sustained proximity to its author has eroded his judgement and softened his heart. Marriage would be on the cards if Dudley hadn’t been dead for 10 years.
Turn the colour down on Part One and you could be watching a Hartnell story, as the Doctor and his chorus line of companions pour out of the TARDIS to poke around a spooky spaceship, discuss what various props might be, and greet the opening of a door as if it’s the single most thrilling moment of their lives to date. Nyssa delivers the first of a script-full of daft lines with: “On Traken, the interferometer superseded the crystal.” My god! Really? From that we can deduce… Oh, nothing at all. The Doctor’s reply – “Yes! That’s what’s interesting” – suggests his fifth incarnation either has a worrying lack of perspective, or is a master of sarcasm.
One hour and eight minutes – nearly three episodes – then pass before the Doctor faces any immediate threat to his life, which must be a record. Until that happy moment, it’s all a bit Come Dine With Me, as the Doctor and company meet their host – Monarch the urbane Urbankan – and poke around his home, before enjoying a light meal and a spot of postprandial entertainment. All of Terence Dudley’s stories pause for a cold buffet at some stage.
In fits and starts, we learn that our planet is under threat. Monarch has visited Earth four times, scooping up a gaggle of indigenous peoples and turning them into androids. To help speed the millennia-long journey, he makes them dance for him – a sort of Earth’s Got Talent. On this visit, however, Monarch is coming for good. That’s rather a shame, as we’re left to wonder who from 1981 might have been added to his show bill. Would a robot Roxy Music have been playing out eternity? Bucks Fizz? Joe Dolce? “There is a sensitivity in his persona which suggests what in the Flesh Time was called soul.” “Ah, shaddup-a your face.”
But somehow, despite the dancing and general mooching around, Four To Doomsday holds our interest. It’s almost ‘about’ something, as Dudley seems to be musing upon the nature of identity and free will – and in this, we’re once again reminded of Doctor Who’s earliest years. While you have to unpick some abstruse conversations between Monarch and his Urbankan flunkies, Enlightenment and Persuasion, to get to the subtext, these scenes are lifted by a splendid performance from Stratford Johns, who actually seems to understand the significance of every word Monarch says.
There’s some terrible dialogue flying about. While describing the Time Lords, Adric all but reads out The Doctor Who Programme Guide; with Rassilon, the Eye of Harmony, twin hearts, self-induced trances and even the TARDIS power room mentioned within the space of a few seconds. Why stop there? Throw in the transduction barriers and an ormolu clock while you’re at it. There’s also one of the great Doctor Who Conversations We Never See, when after Nyssa’s first mention of the Master, we cut briefly elsewhere, and then back to Monarch saying: “I grieve for you my child, that your father should have met such a fate.” Clearly Nyssa has just related the plot of The Keeper Of Traken, and possibly Logopolis and Castrovalva into the bargain: “And then – oh, you’ll never guess – it turned out the Watcher was the Doctor all the time!”
But I digress. Stratford Johns is not only the best thing about this story, he gives one of Doctor Who’s most assured guest performances full stop, despite having to peer out through the skin of an unripe avocado. His finest moment comes when Enlightenment alliterates a fawning tribute to him – “Nyssa, as a bioengineer, you, more than most, should marvel at the might of our Monarch” – and Johns gives a little cough, feigning modesty. Sublime.
Also worth the admission is Paul Shelley’s droll Persuasion, especially when he nobbles the rebel android Bigon and the Doctor at the end of Part Three: “De-circuit that! And kill him!” Annie Lambert’s Enlightenment is less cool, but there’s a great moment in the final episode when the Urbankans take a break from the storyline to watch some men’s topless wrestling. Breathy and pouting, Enlightenment’s clearly pining for a bit of the old Flesh Time herself. She also gives a divinely camp little wave when she later casts the Doctor into space. You can’t fake that sort of class.
Offering some superb design and effects work – the floating Monopticons are particularly impressive – and three entertaining cliffhangers, Four To Doomsday has plenty of hooks. But frustratingly, Monarch’s plan never quite comes into focus, so it’s a struggle to care. First it’s invasion, then mining the Earth’s resources, then something about an accelerating spaceship and a trip at the speed of light to find himself at the beginning of the Universe. Jesus H Bidmead – what’s all that about? In the end, you’re left with a feeling that Four To Doomsday is either very clever or very dumb. But if it’s the former, it’s certainly travelling under a very cunning disguise as the latter. More frog than prince.
Though light on extras, this DVD still offers plenty of additional entertainment. For this reviewer, the highlight is a 5.1 surround mix of the Peter Howell version of the theme tune – the soundtrack to his childhood. And it’s the whole shebang, complete with the octave-climbing ‘dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-(there’s seven of these, so bear with me)-dum-dum… Ooo-ee-ooo’ bit. Goosebumpy stuff.
There’s some fascinating footage from the studio floor, covering Peter Davison’s first day in harness. Despite his reported misgivings, the star seems instantly at home, flicking switches with Doctorly elan. This material really brings home what a bizarre job acting is – acting in Doctor Who more so. At one point, Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) receives direction via the floor manager. “Can you look at my hand and look dejected?” he’s told. This doesn’t prove much of a challenge for the lad. He appears thoroughly depressed throughout.
A contemporary item from Saturday Night at the Mill sees Davison interviewed by Bob Langley, for whom the content of his autocue appears to be a ongoing source of surprise. Before stirring up a chocolate milkshake that looks like the product of a sewage outflow, Davison considers his future with Doctor Who, commenting that he’s “dreading addressing the Doctor Who societies”. Hopefully we didn’t prove too scary in the end, Peter. Well, perhaps that man from Norwich with the tattoo of Anthony Ainley.
Sadly, Davison is more muted that usual on the commentary, where the quartet of regulars are joined by director John Black. This holds them back from having their usual bitch, and so they talk a lot about how nice the sets look instead. Oddly, the actors seem to play to character here, with Davison taking a confident lead and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) just being jolly nice about things. Waterhouse (Adric) is suitably cocky – “There’s a stunningly glamorous photo of me in that spacesuit” – and Janet Fielding (Tegan) bemoans her lot. The actress feels she wasn’t treated with due respect by the BBC while making Doctor Who, but you come to suspect she would still be grumbling even if they’d made three seasons of The Janet Fielding Show and then appointed her Director-General.