Doctor Who C14.3: The Deadly Assassin review

Review

The Deadly AssassinThe Deadly Assassin review

The Doctor: Suddenly, and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history…

Story Code: C14.3.
Production Code: 4P.
Story Number: 88.
Countdown week: 16…

In many ways, the most significant Classic Doctor Who story: the most influential story in terms of the mythos for Classic Who; the one which was most influential in changing the philosophy of the show’s production (the review will elaborate); the one which really explored the limits of the format of the show. (Please note the review will discuss some plot details of the Time Lords of Classic Doctor Who and Nu-Who up to and including the broadcast preview scene of The End of Time.)

While the story would influence strongly every “Time Lord society” DW story that came after, there are two subtle nods to the two previous stories of this type – The War Games, The Three Doctors – with the plot device of the “biog data extracts”, a neat way for characters to be able to summarise those two stories of the Doctor’s. It’s also a neat way for Hinchcliffe and Holmes to rewrite the biog of an old character that they would would reintroduce as new in this story – the Doctor in the last episode literally helps the character Engin compile new “biog data” for the Master. The old “biog data” has been wiped, and a new Master is written: in the events of the story by the Doctor; by the Doctor Who story.

Another narrative device is that of the “local news” of Commentator Runcible – the Doctor tunes in the TARDIS telly to catch-up with what’s happening, and Runcible eventually talks directly via the camera to the audience of Doctor Who, explaining what’s happening.

The most startling narrative device however is that of the combination of Doctor’s voiceover to audience and scrolling text which introduce the story, which segue into another startling element: the premonition of the Doctor’s apparent assassination of the Time Lord President, which also provides an astonishing to cliffhanger to Episode 1.

The Deadly Assassin reviewEpisode 2 has the Doctor elaborate to the audience who the shadowy figure is – “Who is the Master? He’s my sworn arch enemy, a fiend who glories in chaos and destruction.” The episodes ends with scenes of the Doctor entering the APC Net (later styled as “The Matrix” in DW stories) – Robert Holmes’s astounding premonition of the Internet, Virtual Reality, and the Keanu Reeves three-film franchise.

The third episode – the Doctor roams through this “dreamscape”, this is the episode that was “influential in changing the philosophy of the show’s production” as the start of the review mentioned. Campaigner Mary Whitehouse wrote a letter about it – although the reply from the Director-General of the BBC described the scenes as “reasonably acceptable”, the next producer after Hinchcliffe (for the next season) was specifically told that the series should be lighter. The viewing figures were never quite as great after this season though.

The story does feature a desperate battle: tripwire, blowpipe – and that’s just the Doctor. Hinchcliffe has always said since that although the limits of horror of the programme Doctor Who were approached, it was still within limits.

The last episode makes use of the wonderful production design of the Panopticon, with the moving parts of the theatrical scenery revealing not the ceremonial stairs this time but the Eye of Harmony. By the close of the episode the new Master has been established.

The main legacy of this fantastic DW story was thirteen years of slow accumulation of Time Lord continuity built upon the lightly sketched elements shown here, which in turn, inspired the basic idea of Nu-Who – the Time War. All this Time Lord continuity was erased, by this stage-clearing Time War. The Time Lords were prominent by their absence – the Doctor is defined as Last of the Time Lords. One other Time Lord (of course – the Master) eventually returned to the Nu-Who era of programme in 2007, only to apparently perish once more.

The image of a hooded resurrected Master from this 1976 story is an iconic one I think. As I write The End of Time (Part 1) will be broadcast in less than a week – something about the November 2009 preview scene of the story suggests RTD thinks the image of a hooded resurrected Master is an iconic one too…

Rating: 5/5

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