Doctor Who: Tin Dog Podcast
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TDP  091: Planet of the Dead and Fab Whostrology

"Planet of the Dead" is an episode of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who that was simultaneously broadcast on BBC One and BBC HD on 11 April 2009. It is the first of four special episodes to be broadcast throughout 2009 and early 2010, which serve as lead actor David Tennant's denouement as the Tenth Doctor. He is joined in the episode by actress Michelle Ryan, who plays one-off companion to the Doctor Lady Christina de Souza. The episode was co-written by Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts: the first writing partnership since the show's revival in 2005.

The episode depicts Christina fleeing the police from a museum robbery by boarding a bus that accidentally travels from London to the desert planet of San Helios, trapping her, the Doctor, and several passengers on board a damaged bus. After the bus driver dies trying to return to Earth, the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, headed by Captain Erisa Magambo (Noma Dumezweni) and scientific advisor Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans), attempt to return the bus to Earth while preventing a race of metallic stingray aliens from posing a threat to Earth. At the end of the episode, one of the passengers delivers a warning to the Doctor which foreshadows the remaining three specials.

"Planet of the Dead" is the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in high definition, after a positive reaction to the visual quality of spin-off series Torchwood and the financial viability of HDTV convinced the production team to switch formats. To ensure that the desert scenes looked as realistic as possible, the production team filmed in Dubai for three days, sending several props—most notably, a 1980 double-decker Bristol VR bus—to the United Arab Emirates for filming. After the bus was unintentionally damaged in Dubai by a shipping container, Davies rewrote the script to explain the damage in the narrative.

Reaction to the episode was mixed: the audience gave the episode an Appreciation Index of 88[3]—considered excellent—but critics gave average reviews to the episode. The consensus among critics was that it was enjoyable as a whole but that it was only an average script. The main point of praise was Evans' performance alongside Dumezweni in scenes set on Earth, which countered their criticism of the events on San Helios as being relatively boring.


The episode begins with a young thrill-seeking burglar, Lady Christina de Souza (Ryan), stealing a gold chalice once belonging to King Athelstan from a museum. She then narrowly evades the police by riding on a London bus on which the Doctor (Tennant) is also travelling, shortly before the bus suddenly passes through a wormhole and arrives on the desert planet of San Helios. The Doctor and the other passengers find that the wormhole is still present, but deduce that the bus had protected them like a Faraday cage after the bus driver is killed trying to cross back on foot, evaporating to a skeleton instantly. Seeing the driver's skeleton coming out on the other side of the portal, the police call in UNIT, commanded by Captain Erisa Magambo (Dumezweni) and aided by scientific advisor Malcolm Taylor (Evans), to close the wormhole. Trapped on a heavily damaged bus, the other passengers introduce themselves: Angela (Victoria Alcock) is a middle-aged mother travelling home to her family; Lou (Reginald Tsiboe) and Carmen (Ellen Thomas) are an elderly couple who win £10 each time they play the National Lottery due to Carmen's low-level psychic abilities; Barclay (Daniel Kaluuya) was travelling to a friend's house to ask her on a date; and Nathan (David Ames) was travelling home to watch television. The Doctor and Christina decide to scout the planet, spotting an approaching storm, while Nathan and Barclay try to fix the bus.

As they travel, the Doctor learns of Christina's troubled history, and appreciates her callousness and aptitude to the alien situation. The Doctor and Christina encounter the Tritovore, an anthropomorphic fly species, who take them to their wrecked spaceship. The Tritovore explain that they were making a routine goods collection from the planet but crashed in an unfamiliar environment; a year previously, the planet housed a hundred billion inhabitants and a thriving ecosystem. The Tritovore send out a probe to investigate the cause, and discover a large swarm of metallic stingray-like aliens who routinely create wormholes and destroy ecospheres as their biological imperatives. To rescue the Tritovore and the bus passengers, Christina uses her burglary skills to retrieve a crystal which powers the spaceship (together with the pedestal it is located on), unintentionally awakening a stingray that kills the two Tritovore.

The Doctor attaches parts of the pedestal to the bus and uses the chalice of Athelstan as an interface to the technology. This allows the bus to fly through the wormhole, with the stingrays in hot pursuit. Taylor quickly closes the wormhole but not before three of the stingrays pass through it. After UNIT has shot down the stingrays and the passengers have been debriefed, Christina asks the Doctor to let her travel with him; he rejects her because he does not want to lose another companion. The characters part ways. The Doctor recommends that UNIT hire Barclay and Nathan, Christina is arrested by the police for the theft and Carmen has a premonition that visibly unnerves the Doctor:

You be careful, because your song is ending, sir. It is returning, it is returning through the dark. And then Doctor... oh, but then... he will knock four times.

Carmen, "Planet of the Dead"[4]

As a final act of kindness, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to release Christina from her handcuffs. The pair part on good terms as she flies away in the bus as the Doctor enters his TARDIS and dematerialises.


Writing and casting

Ryan and Tennant reviewing the script before filming in Butetown on 28 January 2009.

Russell T Davies co-wrote the episode with Gareth Roberts, the first writing partnership for the show since its 2005 revival.[5] "Planet of the Dead" was a departure from Roberts' usual stories—Roberts had previously only written pseudo-historical stories—and instead consisted of "wild" science fiction elements from his literary career and teenage imagination. The episode had no clear concept—such as Shakespeare and witches in "The Shakespeare Code" or Agatha Christie and a murder mystery in "The Unicorn and the Wasp"—and instead was a deliberate "clash [of concepts] with many disparate elements". Roberts explained he was cautious to ensure that each element had to "feel precise and defined ... like we meant that", citing the serial Arc of Infinity as an example where such control was not enforced.[6] The episode includes a common feature of Davies' writing in that there is no clear antagonist: the Tritovore are eventually sympathetic to the protagonists and the stingrays are only following their biological imperative.[7][8]

Unlike the Christmas specials, the theme of Easter was not emphasised in the story; the episode only contained a "fleeting mention" of the holiday instead of "robot bunnies carrying baskets full of deadly egg bombs". The episode's tone word—"joyous"—was influenced by Davies' realisation that "every story since "The Fires of Pompeii" [had] a bittersweet quality" and subsequent desire to avoid the recurring theme.[5] The starting point for the story was Roberts' first novel The Highest Science. Davies liked the image of a London Underground train on a desert planet and rewrote it to contain a bus. Davies nevertheless emphasised it was not an "adaptation as such" because tangential elements were constantly being conceived and added.[5]

Michelle Ryan portrays Lady Christina de Souza, the daughter of a recently impoverished aristocrat and adrenaline junkie. Christina is a "typical" Doctor Who companion, Davies electing to draw parallels from the Time Lady Romana rather than new series companion Rose Tyler. Roberts described her as an "adventuress" who is "upper class and glam, suited and booted, and extremely intelligent" which the Doctor could relate to because they both rejected their heritages. The episode's director James Strong described the character as reverting to a traditional romantic-based companionship—rather than the platonic companionship of Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) in the fourth series—while still being a unique companion:[9]

It's back to basics: she's probably more of a traditional, romantic kind of Thomas Crown Affair kind of heroine, if you like. [...] It echoes to me of Rose, in that there may be a good old fashioned romantic connection between them. She's young, she's beautiful, she's sexy, but whereas Rose was a very ordinary, normal girl, Lady Christina is a lady, she comes from a very privileged, very elite background. She's different to any of the companions we've ever had in that she doesn't particularly want to get caught up with the Doctor. She's got her own thing going on, so she's very much a match for the Doctor and very much an equal. Often in an adventure the Doctor will take control and everyone will do what he says. She's very much in control – the two of them are in a sparring way, battling against each other to get through this adventure.

James Strong, Digital Spy interview.[9]

Comedian Lee Evans plays Professor Malcolm Taylor, a UNIT scientist devoted to his predecessor, the Doctor. Davies created Evans' character to serve as a foil for Noma Dumezweni's pragmatic character Captain Erisa Magambo, who previously appeared in the episode "Turn Left".[5] Roberts noted after writing the episode that Evans' character had unintentionally become a "loving" caricature of Doctor Who fandom.[6][10]

The episode was influenced by several works: Davies described "Planet of the Dead" as "a great big adventure, a little bit Indiana Jones, a little bit Flight of the Phoenix, a little bit Pitch Black.";[11] the relationship between the Doctor and Christina was influenced by 1960s films such as Charade and Topkapi, which included Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn "being witty and sophisticated together, and then running for their lives";[5] and the Tritovore were influenced by 1950s and 1970s science fiction B-movies such as The Fly and Davies' habit of including aliens that were recognisable to the audience as animals from Earth, such as the Judoon.[7] Carmen's warning evoked memories of the Ood's warning to the Doctor and Donna in the fourth series episode "Planet of the Ood".[7] Tennant explained the prophecy meant that the Doctor's "card [had become] marked" and the three specials would thus be darker—characterising "Planet of the Dead" as the "last time the Doctor gets to have any fun"—and that the subject of the prophecy was not the obvious answer:

David Tennant
Really, from this moment on, the Doctor's card is marked. Because when we come back in "The Waters of Mars", it's all become a little bit darker.
Julie Gardner
And as we know, David, he really does knock four times.
Yeah, absolutely, and if you think you've figured out what that means, you're wrong!
But when you do figure it out, it's a sad day.
David Tennant and Julie Gardner, Doctor Who: The Commentaries, "Planet of the Dead"[8]


The two major filming locations of the episode: the desert of Dubai was used for scenes on the "planet of the dead"; and the Queen's Gate Tunnel in Butetown, Cardiff was used for the majority of Earth-bound scenes.
The two major filming locations of the episode: the desert of Dubai was used for scenes on the "planet of the dead"; and the Queen's Gate Tunnel in Butetown, Cardiff was used for the majority of Earth-bound scenes.
The two major filming locations of the episode: the desert of Dubai was used for scenes on the "planet of the dead"; and the Queen's Gate Tunnel in Butetown, Cardiff was used for the majority of Earth-bound scenes.

Pre-production on the four specials started on 20 November 2008—four days before scheduled—because the episode's overseas filming in Dubai required the extra planning time.[12] Two weeks later, the production team was on a recce for the special and the final draft of the script was completed.[13] The production team examined overseas locations to film the episode because they wanted the scenery to feel "real" and thought that they would be unable to film on a Welsh beach in winter. After examining countries such as Morocco and Tunisia, the production team decided to film in Dubai because the area was more amicable to the filming industry and viable filming locations were nearer to urban areas than other locations.[14]

Production began on 19 January in Wales.[2][10] The special was the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in high-definition television resolution.[15] The move to HD had previously been resisted for two major reasons: when the show was revived in 2005, high-definition television was not adopted by an adequate portion of the audience to be financially viable; and special effects were considerably more expensive to create in high-definition than in standard-definition. "Planet of the Dead" was used to switch to HD because of the show's reduced schedule in 2009 and because the filming crew had become experienced with the equipment while they were filming Torchwood.[8]

Filming began at the National Museum Cardiff,[location 1] which doubled for the history museum depicted in the episode's first scene. To portray the tunnel the bus travelled into, the Queen's Gate Tunnel of the A4232 road in Butetown[location 2] was closed for four nights to accommodate filming. The last major piece of filming in Wales took place in the closed Mir (formerly Alphasteel) steelworks in Newport,[location 3] which doubled almost unaltered for the Tritovore spaceship. Filming took place at the peak of the February 2009 Great Britain snowfall, where the sub-zero temperatures slowed filming and had a visible effect on the cast. To accommodate for the adverse conditions, Davies included a line in the script that specified that the Tritovore spaceship cooled as external temperatures increase.[8]

The 200 bus—so named after the episode's landmark—in dock at Dubai City Port, after a container was accidentally dropped on it.

Filming in Dubai[location 4] took place in mid-February 2009. Two weeks previously, one of the two 1980 Bristol VR double-decker buses bought for filming had been substantially damaged when a crane accidentally dropped a container in Dubai City Port.[7][16]After an emergency discussion by the production team, they agreed that the damage was unintentionally artistic and decided to include the damaged bus in the episode;[7] instead of shipping the spare bus from Cardiff—which would have delayed the already hurried filming schedule—the production team decided to partially reconstruct the bus in Dubai, damage the spare bus in Cardiff to match the bus in Dubai, and rewrite part of the script to accommodate and mention the damage to the bus.[7][8][17][18] James Strong recalled the reaction of the production team to the damage to the bus in an issue of Doctor Who Magazine:

One morning in the first week of February, I was leaving my flat when Julie Gardner phoned. She said, "there's been a little accident with the bus [...] it's a disaster; the bus is fucked." When I got into the office, I was handed a photograph—and my initial reaction was absolute horror. We called an emergency meeting. Russell came in [...] and we discussed our options. We had bought an identical London bus to film on in Cardiff, so could we send that out to Dubai? We could have got it out in time if it'd left Cardiff, literally, the next day, but we'd have had to find a third bus, an exact replica, to film on in Cardiff a week later. It had taken us a month to find the one we had. It was even mooted that we'd have to forget Dubai and opt for a beach in the UK. But Russell's response was "Okay, let's embrace it. Let's say that the bus was damaged on its way to the alien planet. [...] He wove it into the narrative. We're not trying to hide the damage at all. In fact, we show it off, enhancing it with special effects, smoke and sparks. It works rather marvellously. That London bus, damaged and smoking, in the middle of the desert—yeah, it looks incredible, especially in gorgeous hi-def.

James Strong, Doctor Who Magazine issue 407.[14]
A notable use of lens flares being used in the episode for artistic effect. Strong sought to maximise—rather than minimise—effects such as these because it disguised the fact it was filmed in a studio and allowed the viewer to suspend their disbelief more easily; this specific shot was highlighted by Strong and Tennant as an example of how it was correctly utilised.[8]

The damaged bus was not the only problem to filming in Dubai: the first of the three days was afflicted by a sandstorm which left most of the footage shot unusable.[14] The production team then struggled to complete three days of filming in two days; the last day was compared to "filming Lawrence of Arabia".[7] To complete the episode's filming, interior scenes in the bus were filmed in a studio in Wales. To disguise the fact they were using a translite—a 360-degree background image—, Strong utilised often-avoided techniques such as muddied windows and lens flares; the latter also served to create a warmer environment for the viewer.[8] After filming ended, editing and post-processing took place until two days before transmission, leaving the BBC to resort to using an unfinished copy to market the episode.[7][8]

200th story

"Planet of the Dead" was advertised as Doctor Who's 200th story. Writer Russell T Davies admitted that the designation was arbitrary and debatable, based upon how fans counted the unfinished serial Shada, the season-long fourteen-part serial The Trial of a Time Lord, and the third series finale consisting of "Utopia", "The Sound of Drums" and "Last of the Time Lords".[19] Davies personally disagreed about counting The Trial of a Time Lord as one serial—arguing that it "felt like four stories" to him—and grouping "Utopia" with its following episodes, but agreed that it was only an opinion which did not override any others.[19] Gareth Roberts inserted a reference to the landmark—specifically, the bus number is 200[20]—and Davies emailed the show's publicity team to advertise the special as such.[19] Doctor Who Magazine's editor Tom Spilsbury aknowledged the controversy in the magazine's 407th issue, which ran a reader survey of all 200 stories.[21]

Broadcast and reception

Overnight figures estimated that the special was watched by 8.41 million people, a 39.6% share of the audience. An additional 184,000 watched the programme on BBC HD, the channel's highest rating so far. The initial showing had an Appreciation Index of 88: considered excellent.[22][23] A BBC One repeat, two days later, gained an overnight figure of 1.8 million viewers.[22] The special was therefore the second most watched programme of the day, being beaten by the premiere of the new series of Britain's Got Talent.[23] The final viewing figure for the initial broadcast was 9.54 million viewers on BBC One and 200,000 viewers on BBC HD, making it the fifth most watched programme of the week and the most watched programme ever aired on BBC HD.[24] Including repeats in the following week and viewings on the BBC iPlayer, 13.89 million viewers watched the episode in total.[25]

The episode received average critical reviews. Simon Brew of science fiction blog Den of Geek said the episode was "by turns ambitious and predictable" but "still quite entertaining". The first part of the review mentioned an objection from his wife that the bus trapped in the sand "[looked] really fake", despite the episode being actually filmed in Dubai, and then mentioned Brew's appreciation of the concept of people stranded in the desert and concluded that "made a fair fist of it". Brew positively reviewed Michelle Ryan's performance—comparing her performance to be on par to her role in Bionic Woman rather than her role as Zoe Slater in Eastenders—and Lee Evans' performance as Malcolm Taylor, calling him the highlight of the episode because of his dialogue. He closed his review by saying that ""Planet of the Dead" was passable enough": he thought it "never really gelled" for him; but he thought it was overall entertaining and was excited for the remaining three specials as a result of Carmen's prophecy.[26]

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 "mostly loved "Planet Of The Dead"", commenting that it was a standard Russell T Davies script that had the "elements of a cracking good story":

POTD was pretty much everything you've come to expect from Russell T. Davies' Who: crazy adventures, slightly cartoony characters, clever dialogue, moments of sheer silly fun, a childlike solemnity, a miraculous save, bombastic music, and one woman who's held up as being the most special person ever.

It didn't hurt that POTD had all the elements of a cracking good story: The Doctor and friends trapped on an alien planet, on the other side of the universe, with no easy way to get home. Alien creatures who might be hostile. A deadly swarm coming to tear our heroes apart. And UNIT on the other side of the wormhole, trying to come to grips with this almost unimaginable threat.

She compared it to two previous episodes, "The Impossible Planet" and "Midnight", both of which she enjoyed. She criticised three aspects of the episode: Lady Christina, who was the "first RTD heroine who actually filled [her] with revulsion", leaving her hoping that the character would be killed off-screen, Malcolm's reluctance to close the wormhole and the implausibility of only three stingrays travelling through it. She thought that the episode was "a pretty solid adventure with a cool set of monsters".[27]

Ben Rawson-Jones of entertainment website Digital Spy gave the episode two stars out of five. He characterised the episode as being "as hollow as a big chocolate Easter egg" because it was "lacking in the enthralling drama and compelling characterisation that has been the lynchpin of the Russell T Davies era". His main criticism was towards Ryan's character, describing the romantic tension between Christina and the Doctor as "feeling forced" and arguing that Ryan was "utterly unconvincing" as Christina. Conversely, he was appreciative of Strong's direction and the UNIT subplot. Specifically, he approved of Evans' performance, noting that "the fact that Malcolm names a unit of measurement after himself is both inspired and hilarious". His review ended by describing the episode as "lifeless for much of the hour" and expressing his hope that the ambiguous entity from Carmen's premonition would "hurry up".[28]

Orlando Parfitt of IGN gave the episode a 7.1 (Good) rating out of ten. Parfitt called it a "straightforward story" that did not elevate to the level of excitement typically seen in Doctor Who until the episode's climax, instead describing the majority of the story as being "taken up with Tennant and Ryan standing in the desert, swapping flirtatious banter in between proclaiming how dire their situation in between", and criticised the writing of the part of the episode where the bus was on San Helios, claiming that plot devices such as the Tritovore or Taylor being held at gunpoint and ordered to close the wormhole as "feel[ing] forced and unnaturally shoe-horned into the script". His praise of the episode went to Ryan and Evans: although he thought of Christina as a "shameless Lara Croft ripoff", he said that the character "still proves a sexy and wise-cracking counterpart to the Doctor"; and Evans' acting alongside Dumezweni highlighted his "undeniably great comic acting" as opposed to his "love-it-or-hate-it" stand-up comedy. The last paragraph of his review focused on the climax, which he thought was "a cracker [that] just-about makes up for the previously plodding plot", and described the entire episode as having "enough enjoyable moments" to entertain fans before the transmission of "The Waters of Mars".[29]

DVD and Blu-Ray release

"Planet of the Dead" will be released on DVD on 15 June 2009,[30] and on Blu-Ray on 29 June 2009.[31]

Direct download: TDP_91_final.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 8:07am UTC

TDP 90: Big Finish Round Up  to follow
Direct download: TDP_90_Big_Finish_Round_Up_V2.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 7:52am UTC

TDP 89: The Deadly Assassin


The Doctor answers a summons and finally returns to his homeworld, Gallifrey, seat of the Time Lords. However, when the President of the High Council is assassinated, he becomes the prime suspect, while an old enemy lurks in the shadows, pulling the strings.

[edit] Plot

The Fourth Doctor has arrived on Gallifrey after receiving a mysterious summons from the Time Lords. Along the way, he has a precognitive vision about the President of the Time Lords being murdered.

As soon as the TARDIS materialises within the Gallifreyan Citadel, an alarm sounds and it is surrounded by soldiers. Their leader, Commander Hildred, reports to Castellan Spandrell. Both note that the TARDIS is a Type 40, which is no longer in service. Since the arrival is unauthorised, the soldiers are ordered to impound the TARDIS and arrest the occupant. The Doctor overhears this, and realises that the Time Lords did not summon him. Someone has gone to great lengths to set him up.

Spandrell goes to see Coordinator Engin in the Archives Section, leaving Hildred in charge. Hildred and his troops enter the TARDIS, but the Doctor manages to sneak out and make his way to a service lift that leads to the main tower. A soldier is present, and threatens to place the Doctor under arrest. However, the soldier is quickly killed by a phantom-like figure who disappears before the Doctor can get a good look at him. The Doctor sends the lift on its way, in an attempt to fool the soldiers into thinking he has fled deeper into the Citadel. All of this has been observed by the Doctor's old adversary, the Master, who is wearing a black hood that conceals his features. "Predictable as ever, Doctor," he snorts, before returning to the shadows.

Chancellor Goth arrives outside the TARDIS to see the situation for himself. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is watching a news broadcast by a reporter he recognises as Runcible (whom the Doctor nicknames "the Fatuous"), a classmate from his days at the Academy. It is revealed that the President is set to retire, and he is to name a successor before he does. Runcible is talking to Cardinal Borusa, one of the Doctor's former teachers. He asks Borusa who the Presidential successor will be, but Borusa brushes him off.

The TARDIS is transmatted to the museum, and the Doctor takes the opportunity to steal a set of traditional Gallifreyan robes to mingle with the crowds. Meanwhile, deep within the archive tower, the Master, revealed to be horribly emaciated, confers with an unseen accomplice. He says that the trap has been set, and they must make sure the Doctor dies quickly.

At the Panopticon, the disguised Doctor briefly converses with Runcible before the outgoing President makes his entrance. The Doctor scans the area and notes a camera stationed on an unguarded catwalk. He also spots a sniper rifle next to the camera. The Doctor fights his way to the catwalk, warning that the President is about to be killed. Unfortunately, for the Doctor, the assassin is actually among the delegates. He pulls out a pistol and shoots the President dead. The crowd sees the Doctor on the catwalk with the rifle and assume he is the assassin.

The captured Doctor insists that he is innocent. Eventually, Spandrell starts to believe him and orders Engin to assist him in an independent investigation. Meanwhile, Goth and Borusa debate over the Doctor's impending trial. Goth notes that the election for a new President will occur in forty-eight hours, and he is eager to see the Doctor executed before then. Borusa, however, wants to ensure that the Doctor receives a fair trial, according to law. The Doctor surprises everyone by invoking Article 17: he will run for President, which will mean he can only be tried if he loses the election. The Master and his assassin are not pleased with this turn of events.

The Doctor returns to the scene of the crime with Spandrell. They discover that the sight on the Doctor's rifle was fixed, making it impossible for this weapon to have killed the President. They conclude that the real assassin would have been caught on tape by a nearby video camera, but when they inspect the camera, they find the shrunken body of the technician inside. The Doctor then realises that the Master is behind this. Runcible attempts to take the tape from the camera to the archives for review, but he is killed by a spear to the back.

The Doctor realises that the Master sent the Doctor the premonition of the assassination through the Matrix, a vast computer which turns thought patterns into virtual reality. He decides to enter the Matrix as a means of tracking the Master. Engin warns him that if he dies in the virtual world, he will die in the real world as well.

The Doctor enters the Matrix and finds himself in a forbidding landscape of crumbling white cliffs and sparse vegetation. The disembodied laughter of some unknown presence echoes off the canyon walls. The Doctor is then engaged in a series of surrealistic sequences. First he nearly walks into the open jaws of a hungry crocodile, which simply disappears into thin air. He is then attacked by a masked samurai warrior and falls from a cliff into unconsciousness. He revives upon an outdoor operating table with a masked surgeon standing over him. The surgeon tries to inject him with a substance from an extremely large hypodermic needle. The Doctor pushes the surgeon away and runs off to find himself in the midst of a World War I battle. Shell and machine gun fire is heard and gas canisters explode all around. A soldier and his horse stumble out of the smoke wearing gas masks. The Doctor runs bewildered until he comes upon a train track, the rail of which closes upon one of his boots and traps him. A group of three masked men appear and one attempts to run him down with a mine train.

The train disappears before hitting the Doctor and he works his foot free. The Doctor realizes that his surroundings are but an illusion and tries to deny their existence, but passes out from the strain. Recovering consciousness he becomes aware of the two large black eyes of his unknown adversary in the side of a cliff, telling him that he is the creator of this world and that there is no escape. The Doctor, dehydrated and thirsty, hears the sound of running water, but when he attempts to dig into the ground to locate its source he is greeted by a red-nosed clown peering through a window, laughing at him. He is then strafed by machine gun fire by a masked pilot in a biplane, eventually receiving a bullet wound in the leg. The Doctor tries to deny the existence of the wound, and it disappears. However, the disembodied voice of the assassin reminds him that this is his reality, and his rules, and the wound reappears. The Doctor declares that he will then fight the assassin in his reality.

In the real world, Engin tells Spandrell that the Doctor’s adversary is using a lot of energy to maintain the virtual environment, so the Doctor can defeat him if he provides an adequate distraction.

Inside the Matrix, the dry barren virtual environment merges into a thick, sticky jungle, and the assassin soon appears dressed as a big game hunter, a mesh veil obscuring his face. The assassin concludes that the Doctor will need water, and, leaving his backpack behind him, goes off to contaminate the local supply with poison from a small bottle. The Doctor finds the assassin's backpack and takes a grenade and some twine, setting up a makeshift booby trap. The assassin returns and trips it, setting off an explosion which wounds him in the abdomen.

Fearing that his protégé might lose, the Master sends a hypnotised guard to kill the Doctor's physical form.

Back inside the Matrix, the Doctor continues to be hunted through the virtual jungle. Coming to the pool of water, he finds dead, floating fish and the empty bottle and realises that the water has been poisoned. He finds a small amount of uncontaminated water and drinks it through a reed, then uses the reed and some thorns off of a nearby tree to make a blowgun, dipping the ends of the darts into the remnants of the poison from the bottle. The Doctor climbs up into a tree and shoots the assassin in the leg with a dart. The assassin fires his rifle and hits the Doctor in the arm, causing him to fall out of the tree. Ripping his pants leg open to reveal a potentially fatal wound, the assassin injects himself with an antidote while the Doctor again escapes.

In the real world, the hypnotised guard makes his way to the Matrix chamber, but Spandrell manages to shoot him before he can sabotage the Matrix link.

Back in the Matrix, the Doctor has made it to a gas-filled marsh, where the assassin reveals his true identity: Chancellor Goth. Goth tries to shoot the Doctor but ignites the marsh gas, setting himself on fire. Goth falls into the water to extinguish the spreading flames. The Doctor comes out of hiding to confront him, but is caught by surprise by Goth and tackled. Intense hand-to-hand combat ensues, with Goth seeming to gain the upper hand. He attempts to drown the Doctor.

However, the strain of fighting and keeping up the virtual reality overcomes Goth. The Doctor breaks free and hits Goth over the head with a large stick. The Master, realising that Goth has been effectively defeated, decides to hedge his bets and tries to trap the Doctor in the Matrix by overloading the neuron fields, even though this will also kill Goth. Engin manages to get the Doctor out, but Goth is not so lucky. The Master then injects himself with a hypodermic needle.

The Doctor and Spandrell, accompanied by soldiers, manage to make their way to the chamber where the Master and Goth were accessing the Matrix. They find the Master slumped in a chair without a pulse and Goth dying. Goth reveals that he found the Master, near death, on Tersurus. The Master was nearing the end of his twelfth and final regeneration. Goth went along with his schemes mainly for power: he knew the President had no intention of naming him as a successor, but if a new election was held, he would be the front runner. Before he dies, Goth warns that the Master has a doomsday plan.

When Spandrell relates the story to Borusa, the Cardinal orders that a cover story be created to maintain confidence in the Time Lords and their leadership. The official story will be that the Master arrived in secret to assassinate the President, and Goth heroically tracked him down and killed him but perished in the attempt. The charge against the Doctor will be dropped on condition that he leave Gallifrey.

Attempting to piece together what the Master and Goth were planning, the Doctor inquires as to what becoming the President entails. He is told that the President has access to the symbols of office: the Sash and Great Key of Rassilon. As Engin plays the records of the Old Time, which describes how Rassilon found the Eye of Harmony within the "black void", the Doctor realises these objects are not ceremonial. The Doctor inspects the hypodermic needle, and realises that it contained a neural inhibitor. The Master is still alive.

The Doctor, Spandrell, and Engin arrive at the morgue, to find that the Master has revived and killed Hildred. Armed with Hildred’s staser pistol, the Master seizes the Sash from the President's corpse and traps the three in the morgue. The Doctor explains what he has deduced: that the Eye is actually the nucleus of a black hole, an inexhaustible energy source that Rassilon captured to power Gallifrey, and the Sash and Key are its control devices. The Doctor deduces that the Master was planning to steal this energy to gain a new cycle of regenerations. However, if the Eye is disrupted, Gallifrey will be destroyed and a hundred other worlds will be consumed in a chain reaction.

Inside the Panopticon, the Master makes his way to the obelisk containing the Eye. He unhooks the coils that connect it to Gallifrey, and is prepared to access the energy. The Doctor makes his way to the Panopticon via a service shaft. The Citadel begins to quake, and cracks appear in the floor. The Doctor and the Master fight, until the Master loses his footing and falls into a chasm. The Doctor reconnects the coils and saves Gallifrey, although half the city is in ruins and many lives have been lost.

The Doctor is now free to return to his TARDIS. He bids farewell to Borusa, Spandrell, and Engin, but also warns that the Master may not be dead. He had harvested some energy from the obelisk before he was stopped, and may have been able to channel it. As the Doctor’s TARDIS dematerialises, Spandrell and Engin witness the Master sneak into his own TARDIS – disguised as a grandfather clock – and make his escape. Spandrell concludes that it is only a matter of time before the two enemies cross paths again.

[edit] Cast notes

Bernard Horsfall guest stars as Chancellor Goth. He had previously appeared as an unnamed Time Lord (credited as 'Time Lord 1') in the serial The War Games prompting some speculation that they were the same character. Other parts played by Horsfall in Doctor Who were Gulliver in The Mind Robber and Taron in Planet of the Daleks.

[edit] Continuity

  • This is the only serial of the original Doctor Who series in which the Doctor does not have a companion. This was reportedly at Tom Baker's request as he wanted to try a solo adventure. In addition, some have suggested that the production team hoped to discourage Baker's interest in solo serials, but his enthusiastic reaction to the scripts seems to have belied this.
  • Although this story was well-received, the experiment of the Doctor without his companions was not repeated until the revived series episode "Midnight" in the 2008 series. Robert Holmes later stated how difficult it was to write a script without anyone for the Doctor to share his thoughts and plans with (the character is seen to talk to himself more than usual).
  • The planet Tersurus, where Goth says he found the Master, is seen in the 1999 charity spoof Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. How the Master arrived there in an emaciated state is described in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Legacy of the Daleks by John Peel.
  • The character of Borusa reappears in The Invasion of Time, Arc of Infinity and The Five Doctors. In each subsequent story, the character is played by a different actor, Borusa having regenerated. He has also been promoted in each interim, a cardinal here, Chancellor, President, and Lord High President in the later serials, respectively.
  • Earth is referred to as Sol 3; this name is again used in "Last of the Time Lords".[1] The Factfile for that episode on the official BBC Doctor Who website, compiled by fan Rob Francis, refers to the term as Earth's Gallifreyan name.[2] It is used as such again in "Voyage of the Damned".
  • The Doctor's trial and subsequent exile to Earth by the Time Lords and the later lifting of that sentence are mentioned.

[edit] Notable additions

  • This is the first story to state that there is a limited number of times that a Time Lord can regenerate, and that this number is twelve. None of the Time Lords who are killed in this story are seen to regenerate, and the Doctor does qualify (in The War Games) that his people can live forever "barring accidents." In The Brain of Morbius, the fourth Doctor states that his people chose to not live forever because "death is the price of progress."
  • This episode is one of the very few where we see the written Galifreyan language by way of a note to the authorities the Doctor leaves in the Tardis. The handwriting, done with a quill pen, resembles random stylized penstrokes shaped like the upside down capital letter L.
  • The source of the Time Lords' power and that of the TARDIS is the Eye of Harmony, the nucleus of a black hole that lies beneath the citadel on Gallifrey. The Eye (or a link to it) is seen inside the TARDIS in the 1996 television movie. Whether the Eye survived the destruction of Gallifrey mentioned in the 2005 series is not clear, though the TARDIS is seen twice ("Boom Town", "Utopia") drawing its power from the time rift in Cardiff.
  • This story introduces Rassilon who, along with Omega (introduced in The Three Doctors) would become the central figure in Time Lord mythology. When Rassilon's name is first mentioned, the Doctor inquires who he is.
  • One of the artefacts that controls the Eye of Harmony is the Great Key of Rassilon, a large ebonite rod. Confusingly, there are two other Keys of Rassilon mentioned later in the series. One, also known as the Great Key, whose location is known only to the Chancellor, resembles an ordinary key and is a vital component of the demat gun (The Invasion of Time). The other, simply called the Key of Rassilon, gives access to the Matrix (The Ultimate Foe).

[edit] Production

Serial details by episode:
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"Part One" 30 October 1976 21:13 11.8
"Part Two" 6 November 1976 24:44 12.1
"Part Three" 13 November 1976 24:20 13
"Part Four" 20 November 1976 24:30 11.8
  • Working titles for this story included The Dangerous Assassin (which Holmes changed to "deadly" because he thought it "didn't sound right"). The final title is a tautology: a successful assassin must, by definition, be deadly. However, since Time Lords can in general survive death, and the assassin's victims do not, he is perhaps "deadly" in that sense.
  • The story drew considerable hostile commentary from Mary Whitehouse, who particularly objected to the extended freeze frame of Goth drowning the Doctor at the end of episode 3.

[edit] Outside references

[edit] In print

Doctor Who book
Book cover
Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin
Series Target novelisations
Release number 19
Writer Terrance Dicks
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Mike Little
ISBN 0-426-11965-7
Release date 20 October 1977
Preceded by Doctor Who and the Mutants
Followed by Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in October 1977, entitled Doctor Who and The Deadly Assassin.

[edit] Broadcast

This serial was repeated on BBC One in August 1977 (04/08/77) to (25/08/77) on Thursdays at 6.20pm.

The cliffhanger to Episode 3 — where Goth holds the Doctor's head underwater in an attempt to drown him — came in for heavy criticism, particularly from television decency campaigner Mary Whitehouse. She often cited it in interviews as one of the most frightening scenes in Doctor Who, her reasoning being that children would not know if the Doctor survived until the following week and that they would have this strong image in their minds during all that time. After the episode's initial broadcast, the master tape of the episode was edited to remove the original ending. However, off-air U-matic recordings of the original broadcast exist with the ending intact, and have been used to restore the ending on the VHS and subsequent DVD release.

[edit] VHS and DVD release

  • This story was released in March 1989 in edited omnibus format in the US only.
  • It was released in episodic format in the UK in October 1991. It was also re-released & remastered for the W H Smith exclusive Time Lord Collection in 2002 with a better quality freeze frame cliffhanger for Episode 3.
  • DWM 404 confirmed this story for 2009 DVD release. has it listed for 11th May and have this listed for a 4th May release.
Direct download: TDP_89_deadly_assassin.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 7:07am UTC