Day 285 — October 12th 2021

Four to Doomsday Parts One and Two

Four to Doomsday — Part One

The problem with having three companions is that it can be difficult to give them all decent material, or even to find the space for them all in any given story. In Doctor Who’s earliest days the trio of companions was well balanced. Ian was there to do all the action stuff that William Hartnell wouldn’t be up to and to give us the science stuff, Barbara was there for this history and to provide some counter to the occasionally grumpy Doctor Who, and then you had a kid to get into trouble and sprain their ankle. This format of Time Lord and three companions was phased out pretty quickly, and aside from a brief return in Season Four we’ve avoided it since then. Indeed, for most of the 1970s the programme stripped right back to only having a single companion at any one time.

So it’s with some trepidation that I go into this phase of the show, where they bring the format back again with a vengeance. Only a few stories ago Doctor Who was travelling with a single companion (plus robot dog on occasion), and now he’s very quickly picked up a trio of youngsters. My main concern is that the programme at this point might not have the skill to keep them all varied and interesting. They’ve already started trying to find ways around the problem — Adric was largely absent in Castrovalva (aside from popping up as a plot point from time to time) and Nyssa will be sitting out the next adventure.

This one goes for a different approach, though; it gamely tries to give them all something to do, and to make them feel distinct. I can’t say that it goes about it in perhaps the best way, but it tries and you’ve got to admire Terrance Dudley for that.

Nyssa comes out of things the strongest, I think. She gets to be in awe of the equipment on the Urbankan ship, and spends a lot of time playing around with it. She’s not unlike Doctor Who himself here, who did much the same thing a few minutes earlier. By contrast I think Adric probably comes off the worst. Dudley’s plan for him has been to make him a sulky teenager, who strops about people thinking he steered the TARDIS incorrectly, snaps at the Manopticon and gets to be awkwardly sexist to his companions;

Adric: ‘That’s the trouble with women. Mindless, impatient and bossy.’

He makes the situation worse for himself by clarifying that Nyssa doesn’t count because she’s not a woman, she’s just a girl. I suspect somewhere in time and space, Sarah Jane’s ears are pricking up in annoyance. He even takes a more direct swipe at Tegan later on in the story, which makes him braver than I thought;

Tegan: ‘If we don’t get back to Heathrow, I’m going to lose my job.’
Adric: ‘Study maths and you might get a better one.’

When I say Adric comes off the worst I think it might be a close run thing with Tegan herself, but I’m disqualifying her from the competition because she’s still — three stories in — not being written as an actual character. Tegan so far exists solely to to whatever the script needs her to do. As such it actually gives the impression that she might have a range of careers open to her; this episode shows her to be an accomplished artist and capable to speaking obscure Australian dialects from the past.

The worst crime with Tegan’s character in this one, though, is the introduction of the whining which will come to define her across his season. She’s desperate to get back to Heathrow in time to start the first day at her new job, which she was off to when we first encountered her in Logopolis. She spends a solid five minutes at the top of this episode complaining that they’ve wound up on a spaceship instead of in the terminal, and I just don’t buy it. I’m not sure anyone loves their job enough to not be excited by the prospect of travelling in time and space instead of sitting through a health and safety induction.

Four to Doomsday was the first story Davison recorded as Doctor Who and while I think you can sense his nerves in some places, I think he’s largely hit the ground running. There’s something fresh about his incarnation, and the way he interacts with the environment around him. I can imagine Tom Baker waving at the Monopticon as Davison does here, but I don’t think it would be done with such genuine sincerity. This script is also nicely suited to Davison’s often dry sense of humour, and I enjoy the way he performs the jokes — they come across as a man who’s making himself laugh even though no one around him realises he’s joking.

Tegan: ‘Doesn’t look much like Heathrow to me…’
Doctor Who: ‘Last time I was there, they were doing strange things to Terminal three. Oh. No, you’re right. It doesn’t.’

Despite some slightly dodgy attempts at the characterisation in places here, I think this is the strongest episode of the Davison run so far, with a 7/10.

Four to Doomsday — Part Two

I really like the set design in this one — the Urbankan spaceship feels like a place with some genuine scale to it, helped in part by some clever remodelling of the elements in the studio meaning there’s some distinct locations which we only see once and never again. This episode also introduces us to the ship’s greenhouse which is probably the most impressive set of them all — they’ve properly filled the place with plants and mist and it almost looks quite atmospheric in places.

That’s helped along by the lighting, especially in the corridors. They’re the one area of set which might run the risk of looking slightly naff as they’re small and cramped, but the darkness and shadows help to really give them some visual interest. When this story began with a shot of a model spaceship flying through the stars I was all ready to compare it to every other story from the Graham Williams era, and when we saw the TARDIS arrive in the laboratory I thought it didn’t look a million miles away from the kind of sets we had in The Horns of Nimon.

This episode has really pushed away from that and made it look properly impressive. Regular readers will know that I love some different levels in a set and this has them in almost every room. I think they’ve simply moved the metal steps around between scenes to create the different rooms, but it works, and I can totally buy this as a place with some real scale.

I’m also loving the chance to pair Doctor Who and Tegan up — they only really have each other to play off throughout this episode and it works in both their favours. Tegan’s whining feels more like she’s genuinely pleading with the one person who can change her situation, while Davison continues to play the role in a way that makes it feel like the character — but not the actor — is taking the piss almost constantly. I love the sarcastic edge to his character in this one, and he’s got a brilliant turn of phrase;

Doctor Who: ‘Sloppy thinking, Adric. Do you know there are at least three billion bacteria in this chamber alone? And if a frog with a funny hair do can turn itself into a semblance of a human being in a matter of minutes, there isn’t much of a limit to what it can’t do. To say nothing of the dress-making.’

People talk about how David Tennant’s Doctor Who is influenced by the Fifth Doctor — he even says it to the man himself in Time Crash — and in moments like this I can totally believe it. There’s something about that line, and his delivery of it, which feels closer to the New Testament than anything we’ve had before.


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