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Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin

"Through the millennia, the Time Lords of Gallifrey led a life of ordered calm, protected against all threats from lesser civilisations by their great power. But this was to change. Suddenly, and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history..."

I'll get the sickening lovefest out of the way first; I love Tom Baker. I love Robert Holmes. And I love 'The Deadly Assassin'.

It is a fantastic combination of a tremendous script by Holmes, phenomenal direction from David Maloney, quality cliff-hangers (including the one that got Mary Whitehouse in a bother), excellent set design and costumes, and pitch-perfect performances from the entire guest cast, especially George Pravda’s Castellan Spandrall, the dogged Inspector Morse of Gallifrey, and, towering over everything like the curly haired colossus he is, Tom Baker at the absolute peak of his powers.

This was the story to lift the lid on the Time Lords and show us what a bunch of corrupt, self-serving hypocrites they really are. Early stories had shown the Time Lords to be all powerful, god-like aliens. Holmes takes us to a very different Gallifrey from the one we've seen before. This one is more like a galactic Palace of Westminster, full of scheming politicians (who are always happy to adjust the truth) and senile old men who are fussy about pomp and ceremony and not much else.

As well as revolutionising how we viewed the Time Lords, this story also broke new ground for science fiction in general. Who’d of thought that in 1976, Robert Holmes would invent a virtual reality world called the Matrix, a good nine years before William Gibson published Neuromancer and twenty-four years before the Wachowskis decided to rip-off homage Gibson. The Doctor's surprisingly brutal battle with Goth in this surreal virtual world (full of clowns, samurai and creepy surgeons) is one of the highlights of the show's 50 year history.

But best off all, after a three year absence due to Roger Delgado’s tragic death, 'The Deadly Assassin' marks the return of my all time favourite Who villain - the Master. To better fit in with the Gothic era, the Doctor's favourite nemesis has been re-imagined here as a decaying ghoul, skulking in the catacombs of Gallifrey, desperately clinging to life. Galactic domination is no longer his primary goal, only survival at any cost. Even the destruction of his home planet.

Not really much to say after that. It is, for lack of a better word, flawless. Okay, The Master’s necro make-up is too rigid and there are some plot holes (why do none of the murdered Time Lords regenerate?) but these are all minor grumbles. So, sit back, enjoy and hope that Mrs Whitehouse is spinning in her grave.

Notes and Quotes

-- The title is an obvious tautology, by his nature a successful assassin must be deadly. Holmes denied this was so by saying that "There are plenty of incompetent assassins."

--This is the only story in the classic series run in which the Doctor isn’t accompanied by a companion. Therefore this is the only story in the show's entire history where every character is of the same race.

--This is the story to establish that a Time Lord could only regenerate 12 times.

--Bernard Horsfall (Goth) previously played Guilliver in 'The Mind Robber', one of the Time Lords in 'The War Games' and a Thal Taron in 'Planet of the Daleks'. All of these stories were also directed by David Maloney.

--Goth mentions finding the Master on the planet Tersurus. Steven Moffat made the planet the setting for his Comic Relief special, 'The Curse of Fatal Death'. Rowan Atkinson's Doctor meets with the Master to tell him the news that he has plans to marry his companion and retire. The Tersurons were a peace-loving race, shunned and abhorred by the rest of the universe because they communicated through precisely modulated farting. The entire race was wiped out after they discovered fire.

--The Time Lords have their own shadowy intelligence agency, C.I.A. - the Celestial Intervention Agency. They are the ones who sent the Doctor on all those missions during his Third incarnation.

--As well as being Britishly foggy, Gallifrey has its own public service broadcast service. It is not hard to see this as a deliberate parody of BBC's coverage of royal events.

--The entire Matrix scene is exceptional, save the rubbish face croc in Episode 2.

--Time Lord chapters include Prydonians (scarlet and orange), Arcalians (green) and Patrexes (heliotrope). The Doctor is a member of the Prydonian chapter, meaning his family must be very high on the Time Lord social ladder.

--I love how the Doctor spends his trial drawing caricatures of the witness against him.

--Despite the fact he’s on his home planet and surrounded by his peers, it’s odd that no one ever calls the Doctor by his real name.

The Doctor: "That's monstrous! Vaporisation without representation is against the constitution!"

Runcible: "Have you had a face lift?"
The Doctor: "Several so far."

The Master: "You do not understand hatred as I understand it. Only hate keeps me alive. Why else should I endure this pain?"

The Doctor: "Oh! Engin, I can feel my hair curling and that can mean either that it's going to rain... or that I'm on to something."

Engin: "You're going to make Goth into a hero?"
Borusa: "If heroes don't exist, it is necessary to invent them. Good for public morale."

Engin: "What is the Master like on mathematics?"
The Doctor: "He's brilliant, absolutely brilliant-- he's almost up to my standards."
--Modesty isn’t really the Doctor’s thing, is it?

The Doctor: "No answer to a straight question. Typical politician."

Four out of four Action Man toy dolls.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

1 comment:

  1. This one was confusing as a kid. That's not a bad thing mind you, but it meant that while even as child I did like this, I didn't 'get' some bits till much later on. Once the idea of the Matrix's precognition of events being sent to the Doctor and the setup of the gun sights, and all this makes sense, I was able to appreciate it so much more!

    Some complain about how mundane this story makes the Time Lords feel with their petty bickering and public broadcast service, which makes them lose some of the awe we were supposed to regard them in, but I feel it works and I love the matrix idea here back before Cyberpunk was really a thing.


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