CRRRaSh! 371 Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin

By Roy Mathur, on 2021-02-12, at 23:00:00--23:35:30, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

To save confusion, so I can see the date of broadcast right above the On this Day item, I've moved it to where the audio clip segment used to be, which is where it was before. I think the last episode was just a little more chaotic than usual, hence things shifted.

I actually watched The Deadly Assassin right after the Hand of Fear. While this means that the show wasn't totally fresh in my mind, because it's been a number of days since then, for a change it meant that I had time to reflect deeply on the story. Of course not. I did no such thing and the story didn't cross my mind until I started working on these notes. What I'm saying is that I really had to wrack the brain box to remember what I actually saw.

Before we start, Happy Lunar New Year and welcome to the year of the ox.

Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion: No companion!
Director: David Maloney
Writer: Robert Holmes
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Locations: The multiple environments of the Matrix were filmed in July 1976 at Betchworth, Betchworth quarry, and Royal Alexandra and Albert School Lake, all in Surrey, and Wycombe Air Park in High Wycombe.
Story 3 of season 14, following The Hand of Fear (covered in 370), 4 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from 30 October to 20 November 1976.

On this Day

I have nothing. Even the UK singles music chart for that day has nothing significant or memorable. Let's just say it was a good day because it was a Doctor Who day!

What Happens

The Doctor has a precognition of the President Borusa's assassination, attempts to prevent it, but is instead framed for murder and arrested by Gallifreyan head of security Castellan Spandrell.

To delay his execution and allow him time to investigate the murder, the Doctor runs for president under Article 17.

His investigations lead him to transfer his mind into the Time Lord's computer archive known as the Matrix. Inside he fights a virtual Chancellor Goth under the control of the Master.

The Master, at the end of his twelve regenerations is a monstrous skeletal figure, plotting to overthrow the Time Lords and regenerate by stealing and using the Sash and Key of Rassilon. These are devices, disguised as ceremonial and historical items, that control the black hole known as the Eye of Harmony that powers Gallifreyan technology. The Doctor warns him that the plan will fail and many worlds will be destroyed.

The Master ignores the Doctor, begins tinkering with the obelisk in the Panopticon and causes an earthquake. There is a scuffle, the Master falls, but the damaged Citadel survives.

The Doctor says that the Master may have survived and as he leaves in his TARDIS we see the Master escape in his own TARDIS shaped like a grandfather clock.

What I Thought

To begin, it's strange to see the Doctor without a companion, but I enjoyed having him all to myself and seeing how he operates on his own. More on that later in the Trivia segment.

The scene where the Doctor is framed for the assassination, and the strong themes of brainwashing, reminded me or Alan J. Pakula's brilliant and paranoid conspiracy theory The Parallax View (1974) starring Warren Beatty. The scene with the Doctor on the balcony and then themes of precognition reminded me David Cronenberg's 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's 1979 novel The Dead Zone, where Johnny (Christopher Walken) is about to assassinate the evil Trump-like presidential candidate played by Martin Sheen. According to the Beeb, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was an influence, so my analysis is not too from mark.

I liked doddery old (although who can really tell with Gallifreyans) techie Co-ordinator Engin (Erik Chitty) and Castellan Spandrell (George Pravda) has an amazing on-screen gravitas.

The action-packed jaunt into the Matrix, a computer simulated world... the Wachowskis anyone? The Doctor uncovering the hand of the Master wasn't really that difficult because who else in the Whoniverse uses a shrink gun?

The Master returns! Although I was irritated by the Master's frequent machinations during Jon Pertwee's tenure, I miss Robert Delgado. Even if the character he used to play would now be played by a different actor, in this case Peter Pratt, it feels as though a little of Delgado's spirit remains.

The Master's TARDIS in the guise of a grandfather clock is disturbing. The extremes of both seeing that skeletal hand creeping into something so small externally, and the vague sinisterness of an old grandfather clock, is unsettling.

I found getting into the depths of Gallifreyan, and not just Time Lord, cultures fascinating. After not really knowing that much about Gallifrey from previous episodes of the classic series, we are plunged headfirst into a heavily stratified ancient and bureaucratic culture.

We also learn that while Gallifreyan society might tentatively be called a democracy, it is one with the death penalty, torture, and a terribly elitist technocratic class system with the masses actually referred to as the "plebeian classes". Even the name of places like the Panopticon echoes this elitism.

Then there's also the elaborate costumes---the hats, the gowns, the makeup---I love it! And what about the elegant alien names? I am reminded of imperial China, imperial Trantor from Asimov's Foundation novels, and perhaps Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

As well as a general overview, we zoom in on other more finely grained details of Doctor Who lore. One example is the Prydonian Chapter; the elite within the elite; a group of Time Lords that includes President Borusa, the Doctor, and the Master. Does this remind you of the Oxford's Bullingdon Club or Yale's Skull and Bones?

And the first mention of the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) is a nice comedic introduction to some of the more nefarious aspects of the Time Lords.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this story for the fantastic worldbuilding it does in less than two hours, rather than for the drama itself.

Trivia

This is the first and only time the Doctor appeared in a story entirely without a companion, at least on TV. I'm not sure about the franchise as a whole, i.e., the books, audio, etc.