Saturday, 9 November 2013

Four to Doomsday written by Terrance Dudley and directed by John Black


This story in a nutshell: Androids, frogs and Chinese dragons- oh my!

Fair Fellow: Poor Peter Davison, he really was lumbered with some pretty dire companions during his run, wasn’t he? It's not like the actor is even silent on the topic either as has been covered in DVD commentaries, documentaries and interviews. And we are about to see them at their worst in this story and his impatience mirrors my own. What is especially is jarring is how comfortable everybody felt in their roles in Castrovalva (naturally since it was recorded fourth) and how uncertain and tentative they all are here. You can especially tell that Davison doesn’t have a clue how to play the Doctor and so he walks from the TARDIS and simply grins like lunatic until he meets somebody. That's his default setting and yet people seem obsessed with the fact that he is really channeling something deeper (Paul Cornell) when the actor himself admits he was just winging it at this stage with little off screen assistance. He exhibits no character whatsoever except that he’s nice. How dull. Rather like an intergalactic Gok Wan he starts rabbiting on about fashion and earrings when he finally catches up with the locals. At one point the Doctor requires Adric to perform the simplest of sums (maybe his mind is still a little buggered after the regeneration) and he's so desperate to be involved at one point he fakes a faint (perhaps noting how much fun it looks when his companions do it). His fantastic reason for not wanting to warn the Earth that Monarch is coming to murder everybody is because ‘we’ll be laughed at!’ That’s never stopped him before. In fact until he became a walking apology that was often his prime motive for warning the people of whatever planet is in danger this week, it was all part of the fun. ‘The devils!’ he exclaims at Nyssa’s tormentors and makes me wonder if anybody has edited this script. Very awkwardly stitched, his Doctor is at this point with no direction to take him in. How strange that the next story should pretty much sum up the fifth Doctor for the rest of the era. Perhaps that shows how variable the quality of the writing can be at this stage in the shows history.

Arsey Aussie: What can I possibly say about Tegan in this story? As much as I might complain about her character and Janet Fielding’s less than stellar interpretation I do think she at least had a running story to focus on throughout her first season. There was something for her too moan about (it is when she's had the chance to return home and she chooses to step back into the time machine and still berates the Time Lord at every opportunity when the real problems begin!). However Four to Doomsday sees both the character and the actress at their nadir and there is no point when she ever comes across as a human being you might meet in the street. ‘Good than I can catch a train!’ enthuses Tegan with such unnatural stress it sounds as though she is waiting for an applause for making the most mundane of observations. ‘Maths!’ spits Tegan as though Adric has suggested taking her up the ass (seriously…go and watch it again!). Tegan has terrible trouble fighting the idea that she is travelling in a time machine these days and continually rants about the Doctor having lost her her job (when she didn’t give a toss about it in Castrovalva). ‘Look, a door!’ she exclaims as though she is witnessing a miracle...do they not have them in Australia? Are you fashionable Tegan? I would guess not considering she is going to wear that purple monstrosity all season. At most points of this story Tegan is completely hysterical despite being in no danger whatsoever. There is a hilariously awful moment when Tegan discovers her body will be disposed of (hooray!) and she starts stamping her feet and screaming ‘No! No! No! No! No!’ like a kid that has been told that if she doesn't clean her room she'll be grounded for a week. Watching Tegan have an orgasm over the TARDIS console and then laughing insanely as tears run down her face is deeply embarrassing – I’m not sure what is going on in this scene but both the direction and the performance are massively at fault. If there is a portion of the universe that can empathize with her at this moment in time I fear for them. Rather wonderfully all the participants (including Janet Fielding) fall about laughing during this euphoric juncture. Tegan stamps and kicks the TARDIS manual…a bad workwoman always blames his tools. Aside from the drawings what does Tegan contribute to this story except complain, moan and get in the way? She creates a lot of irritating false drama that makes no impact that this precisely the opposite of what a companion should be doing. Bring back Sarah Jane.

Spoilt Brat: No matter how much judgement you can throw at Janet Fielding and Tegan you have to triple that for Matthew Waterhouse and Adric. How unbelievably spiteful, insulting and unreasonable is he in this story? As irritating as pubic louse and just as nasty. Adric declares that all women are mindless, impatient and bossy and judging by the look on Tegan’s face she's ready to shove his little winkie in a blender and serve it up as an Alzarian smoothie. He screams petulantly at the Monopticons and in one unforgettable moment he turns all butch and confronts one with ‘I said where is she?’ It's quite hilarious. Despite the fact that he may recognise it by its chemical title only a true geek that is asking for a bruising would ask for sodium chloride rather than salt. Nyssa gets a gentle shove and Adric that well known boxer of men steps in: ‘Don’t you do that to her!’ When Adric agrees with Monarch he finally puts to rest the hotly debated topic of whether Adric thinks and acts like a retard– yes, yes he does. It's not even as though the little dunce is going along with Monarch's ludicrous scheme to put himself in the position to affect their escape, he genuinely believes in this crusty frog and his web of lies. This is the middle adventure of three that sees Adric working for the enemy and you have to ask yourself why the Doctor bothers keeping him around. When describing the interior of the TARDIS, Adric fails his Through the Keyhole audition by only mentioning the control room, the bathroom and the cloisters. Given that the Ship is infinite, that's a pretty shitty sell. He is so daft not seeing through the Doctor’s overdone praise of Monarch that you have to question whether anybody could be quite this naive. The final insult is that Adric has to be convinced to help the Doctor defeat Monarch.

Alien Orphan: I couldn’t remember Nyssa being in this story and now I remember why. Sarah Sutton is such a strong little actress it breaks my heart to see her wasted in this vacuous effort at writing for a character. She is reading the Principles of Mathematics for fun and then spends four episodes wandering about failing to connect with the plot, obsessing over technology, walking into traps and being rescued from a potentially disastrous haircut. Four to Doomsday might be solely responsible for her reputation for being boring because she is given more techie material to perform than K.9 with none of the charm thrown in to make it bearable. She does mention her father, has a small rail against tyranny and tells Adric to shut up (yay!) but on the whole Nyssa is there to be out in jeopardy and she fulfills that role right up until the last second of the story.

The Good Stuff: There are some parallels with The End of the World where we have a new season and Doctor and now the introductory story is out of the way there is the chance to show off some superb production values. The sets are all pretty fantastic, spacious, gorgeously lit and teeming with instruments. The first and second cliffhanger are rather good too, moments of cleverness in all the dross.

The Bad Stuff: The Doctor and company being spied on should probably be quite unsettling but Monarch and his chums have such middle class, casual voices the only thing you wonder is if they will be offered tea and cucumber sandwiches or not. When so much effort has been put into making the setting as menacing as possible it is a shame to waste that potential with such drab point and shoot direction. The Urbankan make up is revoltingly bad; I have a cold at the moment and examined a tissue earlier post-sneeze and discovered something that looks like Monarch’s face nestling inside. You can see how somebody thought the Recreations were a good idea – it's very Doctor Who to mix culture and fiction but it makes the already deathly slow story crawl to a halt as Tegan designs the latest androids to make it up the catwalk. Adric and Nyssa explore the ship in some very dull, stilted scenes and it worries me greatly that there was ever a point in the show when the set design was given more concentration than the atmosphere, the characterisation and the performances. Bigon is a hopelessly laboured character who wanders through the story with glazed eyed borderm with the odd just the odd moment of melodrama (amongst my favourites are ‘It is not as it seems!’ and ‘Great Zeus!’). So let me get this straight…Monarch destroyed his own planet with a poison, which he plans to use on the Earth to wipe out humanity before replacing them and mining the silicon of the planet. With that he plans to travel faster than light, going backwards in time to the Big Bang to meet himself because he thinks he might be God. Or something. What the hell? I don't think even Terrance Dudley was sure what was going on, he was just making it up as he went along and kept adding new plot elements when things got a bit too quiet. There is a moment in episode three when Adric and Tegan have a huge row, squaking hysterically at each other in a vain attempt to create drama (‘Adric I’m warning you! Get out of my way!’ ‘No!’). To my mind it is the nadir of all companion scenes, topping anything useless that Susan, Dodo and Victoria might have done. It is two unlikable characters appallingly performed having an artificial argument – it's horrible. Could it get any duller than Nyssa playing about with pencils and screwdrivers? The recreationals are repeated ad nauseum to a point where you might genuinely think you have switched over to Blue Peter. When all the cultural dances mingle in recreation haywire you could be forgiven for thinking that you have fallen asleep and fallen into a surrealist, cultural nightmare. The Doctor leaps into space tethered with a loose bit of old rope? The special effects for the space walk are pretty dire; all fringe lines and scribbled in TARDISes. Why does the Doctor head back to the spaceship to save Adric? At one point Monarch actually stares at the camera and goes ‘NOOOOOOO!’ The Doctor leaves the TARDIS door open in front of Monarch and he doesn’t go inside, a bizarre oversight given his obsession with the craft in earlier episodes. The story ends with Bigon and his chums grinning inanely at each other…and I couldn't help but wish the whole lot had been flushed out of an airlock for all the colour they added to the story.

The Shallow Bit: The Doctor is wearing a costume rather than clothes and his companions all follow suit. You wouldn't see anybody on the street dressed up anything like this bunch and it makes them a little hard to buy into as real people. Plus Adric's bowler and Tegan's messy birds nest cut make them deeply unfashionable, even for the eighties. Adric wrestles with Enlightenment in what looks decidedly like an attempted rape scene.
How much filthy dialogue is there in this story…?
‘He knows I’m no good with my hands!’ moans Adric.
‘Is this one of your dropping times Doctor?’
‘Ahh the flesh time!’
‘I wouldn’t dream of interfering with you Monopticons.’
‘Our lubrication freezes and our joints stiffen!’
‘Nyssa, relieve him…’

Result: Four to Doomsday is one of the oddest Doctor Who stories I have ever seen. It flaunts reasonable special effects, fantastic design, gorgeous lighting but this is a lick of gloss over what is a second-rate script full of confused ideas, dodgy characterisation and a distinct lack of action. If there was ever an argument against filling the TARDIS with companions this story is it; you have three terrible, overwritten, badly acted assistants clogging up the story and eating up the Doctor’s screen time and as a result the fifth Doctor is at his most insipid. The story plods along at a glacial pace with little interest, failing to generate any excitement or tension and our triumvirate of villains (Monarch, Persuasion and Enlightenment) make for extremely crass, middle-class aliens, lacking menace. A stilted science lecture lacking logic or entertainment value and a massive misstep for the fifth Doctors opening volley of stories. The show is so up and down at this stage my critical faculties are crippled but I'm astute enough to recognise that this is unacceptable television: 3/10

5 comments:

Peakius Baragonius said...

Thanks for giving me yet more laughter with your delightful takedown of this unfathomably boring piece of s**t. As usual, your suffering has created joy for others, MST3K-style! (Your "He Jests At Scars" review which I read recently actually cheered me up greatly during a bad day.)

Just curious, what exactly do you mean by "Middle Class"? Is that a pejorative term in Britain that ignorant Americans such as I are unaware of?

Anonymous said...

Yep, Davison got the short stick on companions, he got the worst ones

Joe Ford said...

Cheers Peakius, but you haven't seen anything yet with Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity, The Kings' Demons and Warriors of the Deep just around the corner!

Middle class = The middle class is a class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class. The common measures of what constitutes middle class vary significantly among cultures.

Peakius Baragonius said...

A good way of putting it, although I was curious as to which connotations your usage in particular is meant to evoke. I'm guessing something to do with thinking they're being in touch with reality, but actually being off the mark, as with Ace's street slang dialogue?

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