Thursday, 14 July 2011

Re-Watching The 5th Doctor - Four To Doomsday

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a journey 29 years apart...

July 2011. Four To Doomsday is a story that I’ve always had a problem with…well, as an adult at any rate. It’s not so much that there is no real story (or rather a lack of any real explanation as to why Monarch is doing the things he’s doing, such as; spending the last 35,000 years travelling backwards and forwards between Earth and Urbanka and picking up humans from various time periods, or why he’s going to all this trouble just to wipe out the population of Earth and replace it with an android population, or why, half way through the story, it’s suddenly revealed that he has a desire to travel back in time to the Big Bang where he is convinced he’ll meet himself), nor is it that the companions insist on behaving throughout the story like a bunch of unpleasant, recalcitrant children, constantly bickering and fighting amongst themselves (literally, at one point, when Tegan and Adric tussle over the TARDIS key), it’s not even that Tegan suddenly acts completely out of character in Parts Three and Four and, after panicking and running off to the TARDIS, totally abandons her friends to their own fates (in this case either robotisation or beheading) without a seconds thought, in an attempt to escape the spaceship and get back to Earth.

No. What I have a problem with in this story is the character of the Doctor himself.

OK, so this was the first of the Fifth Doctor stories to go before the cameras and, as such, certain allowances have to be made. The actor needs to become comfortable with the role, ease himself into the show, and discover his place. But even with this in mind, sometimes in the first two episodes he comes across more like the Fourth Doctor than the Fifth, and, as such, it can be a little difficult to watch in places (particularly noteworthy offenders being, the Doctor’s exaggerated hand gestures when appreciating the Urbankan technology at the beginning of Part One, or referring to a particular character as “Our friend Percy Persuasion over there”, or even the petulant thumbing of the ears at Monarch in a childishly “ner ner ner ner ner!” way). It’s not until the beginning of Part Three when the character of the Fifth Doctor appears properly, seemingly from nowhere, metaphorically panting with exhaustion, bent double with his hands resting on his knees and apologising to everyone for turning up late and asking what he’s missed.

From then on the adult me likes this story very much.

The picture begins to blur and wobble, someone drags a finger through the strings of a harp, again and again…

January 1982. I love this story. It’s brilliant and exciting and set on board a huge spaceship, just like proper science fiction is supposed to be, just like my favourite film The Empire Strikes Back*1. And there’s a brilliant alien who looks like a frog and a really cool looking man and a pretty lady. I think this new Doctor is the best one ever and Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are my favourite companions - even better than Romana and K9.

Doctor Who just keeps getting better and better. Last year was great with loads of monsters who came out of a swamp and tried to eat you*2 , and there was vampires*3
and the Doctor went all spiky*4 , but this year we’ve seen loads of rooms inside the TARDIS and the Master has tried to kill the Doctor twice and we’ve had big spaceships and the Doctor floating around in space and robots that look like foreign men and the Doctor saving the entire Earth from the frogman.

I turn to my mum. It’s cold and dark outside and the house still smells of the tea she cooked for us an hour ago. There’s only me and my mum and my dad watching Doctor Who. My brother is at cubs (where I should be) and my sister is round her friends house.

“I like him.” I say. “He’s my favourite Doctor.”

“Yes.” She replies. “He is very good, isn’t he.”

We smile at each other. I can’t wait for next week’s adventure.

Unfortunately Four To Doomsday is an oft forgotten adventure. It’s not that its bad, the script is actually quite good (if you ignore the distinct lack of plot); it’s not that its poorly realised (space-walk aside, it boasts some very impressive sets, and Monarch looks great); it’s not even that the acting is below standard (everyone involved is doing a fine job, thrusting themselves into their parts with great gusto). No, the problem is that Four To Doomsday just isn’t particularly memorable - which is an enormous shame, as it happens to be great fun. It just happens to be sitting in a season surrounded by some of the best stories Doctor Who has ever produced.

But there’s even greater excitement ahead, and one or two shocks too. For both the adult and the child, Doctor Who is about to reach dizzying new heights.


- 1: Back then I'd only seen The Empire Strikes Back on it's original theatrical release. I saw Return of the Jedi in cinemas in 1983, but didn't get around to watching Star Wars until a year or two later.

- 2: Full Circle - although the Marshmen weren't trying to 'eat people'.

- 3: State of Decay

- 4: Meglos - although the Doctor never 'went all spiky', this was Meglos disguised as the Doctor.

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