THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE NOVEL
"COLD FUSION" AND
IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO
THE TV STORY "KINDA."
day of wrath
'FOUR TO DOOMSDAY'
THE DOCTOR HAS
RETURNED TO TEGAN TO
1981 - THE RIGHT TIME,
BUT THE WRONG PLACE.
THE TARDIS HAS LANDED
ON A MASSIVE
SPACESHIP FOUR DAYS
AWAY FROM EARTH. IT
IS THE DOMAIN OF
MONARCH, A SCIENTIFIC
GENIUS OF ALMOST GOD-
LIKE POWER. MONARCH
RULES OVER THREE
BILLION OF HIS SPECIES,
AS WELL AS GROUP OF
HUMANS FROM EARTH'S
HISTORY. WHAT PART
HAS HE PLAYED IN
EARTH'S PAST, AND
WHAT ARE HIS PLANS
FOR THE FUTURE? WILL
HE SAVE HUMANITY
FROM ITSELF, OR BE ITS
IT'S FOUR TO
DOOMSDAY, AND THE
DOCTOR HAS NOT TIME
TO LOSE FINDING OUT.
Four To Doomsday
18th january 1982 - 26th january 1982
The first serial ever to be produced starring Peter Davison as the Doctor was “Four to Doomsday” by Terence Dudley, which would eventually turn out to be season nineteen’s second story on transmission. Producer John Nathan-Turner took the decision to film “Castrovalva” – the fifth Doctor’s introductory serial – fourth in production order, the idea being that Davison would need some time to find the character before being required to
play the traumatised Doctor that we see in “Castrovalva”.
This unprecedented move resulted in some amusing continuity howlers on screen – most notably the inconsistent hair length of the TARDIS crew, who in this first story Davison very aptly describes as looking “very neat and ironed” – and also seemed to serve little purpose. Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were both required to behave abnormally in their opening serials, and if anything this actually helped each of them to gradually ease into the role. Here, however, Davison steps out of the TARDIS at the beginning of the first episode and is required to be the fifth Doctor instantly. No evolution. To his credit though, he pulls it off reasonably well. His Doctor is instantly affable and engaging, much calmer than his predecessors; more polite, even. He is no less ingenious or resourceful though – the ‘cricket ball in space’ sequence is particularly memorable – and he is just as brutal to his enemies,
if not more so – he cold-bloodedly kills Monarch, this story’s principal villain, by literally just lobbing a canister of poison at him!
“Four to Doomsday” itself is reasonably compelling for a low budget, studio-bound serial. It features one of my favourite eighties villains – Monarch, who is portrayed by the outstanding Alan Stratford Johns. If you can see past the costume made of condoms, Monarch is a very interesting character indeed – he is invariably pleasant and apparently reasonable, but underneath it all he is a total megalomaniac. He honestly believes that he is God and incapable of doing wrong! He wants to learn how to travel faster than light because he believes that if he could, he would travel back in time to the Big Bang and meet himself. Of course this begs the obvious question – why? – but Johns gives such a controlled and cogent performance that the viewer can almost buy into his madness.
“Four to Doomsday” is certainly not without its flaws though. In the DVD’s commentary, Davison reveals that until the commentary was recorded (in November 2006) he had not looked at this serial since it was first made as he was that concerned about how bad he recalled it being!
A relatively late replacement for “Project Zeta Sigma” by John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, Dudley’s script does feel rather rushed at times and the plot certainly does not stand up to much scrutiny. For example, if Monarch is so advanced, why can he not already travel faster than light? Every cosmic Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to. And why
can the TARDIS not translate the Aborigine dialect being spoken? It is hardly exotic, relatively speaking.
Furthermore, some of Dudley’s dialogue is absolutely appalling. Adric’s line “could you
pass the sodium chloride?” is downright embarrassing, and for that matter his ‘betrayal’ of the Doctor for what I think is the third time is wholly unoriginal (but certainly interesting to watch, post-“Boy That Time Forgot.”)
The cliffhangers are not great either – the Enlightenment / Persuasion reveal is poor, as is the big ‘android’ reveal. Even the final episode ends on a dreadful pseudo-cliff-hanger when Nyssa – who has been badly underused throughout this serial and needs to be effectively written out of the next – faints. Shock horror.
Correspondingly, the story’s DVD release is far from fantastic. Whilst the clean-up of the serial, the commentary track, and the production subtitles are all as impressive as ever, the rest of the bonus material is distinctly uninspiring. The Restoration Team treat us to a clean and elongated title sequence which is branded as a ‘theme music video’, and although it is nice to have it is hardly ideal for this release - Tom Baker’s face is the one that is emblazoned on the screen for the first two minutes or so!
Similarly, the Bob Langley interview with Peter Davison is nice treat for the completists, but it takes seven minutes for them to even get on to the topic of Doctor Who, and even when they finally do it is quickly glossed over so that they can make some chocolate milkshakes!
The most substantial special feature included is the 27-minutes’ worth of studio footage lifted from Davison’s first day on the job. Again, it is nice to witness ‘a little piece of history’ as it were, but it is not something I think I will ever sit through again – I would have much rather have had a ten to fifteen minute featurette featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
Now that much said, I realise that not every Doctor Who serial warrants a lavish release; I doubt that many fans would want to sit through an hour-long documentary on “Underworld”, for example. I think the main reason that I am disappointed with the “Four To Doomsday” DVD is because it is advertised – and priced! – as ‘full’ release when, in my view, the bonus material is not even up to the same standard as many of the ‘budget releases’ in the range.
On the whole though, “Four to Doomsday” is a respectable serial that came as a pleasant surprise to me when I first saw it on UK Gold many years ago and that I enjoyed just as much today. Although I do not generally have a lot of love for cheap and studio-bound serials, I cannot help but have a bit of a soft spot for this serial as it was the first to be broadcast within my lifetime!
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2008
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