THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Cold Fusion
BBC
Four to Doomsday

Episodes 4 Has Adric turned traitor?
Story No# 118
Production Code 5W
Season 19
Dates Jan. 18, 1982 -
Jan. 26, 1982

With Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse,
Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton.
Written by Terrence Dudley. Script-edited by Anthony Root.
Directed by John Black. Produced by John-Nathan Turner.

Synopsis: The Doctor and companions land aboard a spacecraft four days from Earth, with secret intentions for humanity.


Reviews

A Review by Jen Kokoski 27/3/97

Bravo to the writers for a classic-style Who story. Often underrated for it's straightforward plot of alien invasion, Four to Doomsday remains among my favorite episodes to watch on a rainy afternoon. The teamwork interactions of the TARDIS crew provide a comfortable feeling of community aboard the TARDIS. Peter Davison declares himself as the easy-going polite incarnation he is best known as. But while this story is comfortable, it by no means lives up to the full potential of a great Doctor Who adventure. The science behind the Doctor's great escape in episode 4 is questionable. However, the most unforgiveable part of Four to Doomsday , is its lackluster ending which gives new meaning to anticlimactic.


A Review by Marie Radanovich 6/5/98

I don't remember Four to Doomsday being one of my favorites, but when I sat down to watch it again, I found that I really enjoyed it. I think the difference is that, when I was younger, I was more interested in the adventure. Now, I also enjoy episodes that focus on the characters.

This pretty much sums up Doomsday: low on adventure, high on characters. The adventure was pretty unexciting, since I never really felt like the Doctor was in danger. The Monarch seemed more like an eccentric millionaire than a creature capable of atrocities.

The characters, however, were what made this story so entertaining. Castrovalva was about the companions adjusting to a new Doctor; Doomsday is about the Doctor, with his new personality, re-adjusting to his companions. One of the best sections of this story is where Tegan has materialized the TARDIS outside the ship, Nyssa is being held hostage, and Adric thinks the Monarch is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Essentially, the Doctor has lost control over all of his companions, and needs to find a way to get everyone together again. In fact, the Doctor's conflict with his companions is more exciting than his conflict with the Monarch.

Some people have said that the Davison era is afflicted with too many companions, but I disagree. Having several companions is not necessarily a bad thing, if you have good writers. There are plenty of shows that have more than two main characters, and are still entertaining. The trick is to have interesting subplots for the companions that relate to the overall story. Doomsday succeeds in doing this on a certain level, although, as I've said, the action could have been more exciting.

My favorite scene? When Tegan is trying to fly the TARDIS. It's one of the most tense scenes of the story, and I always want to yell at my television, "Don't touch anything!" I'm also delighted when companions work the TARDIS controls... I think I still harbor a 12-year-old fantasy of flying a TARDIS myself. In any case, Four to Doomsday is enjoyable, although not action-packed. I recommend it for anyone who likes the characters of the Davison era.


A Review by Michael Hickerson 12/5/98

Over the years, a lot of harsh criticism has been lobbed at Four to Doomsday, most of it rather underserved. I'm not saying that the story is the strongest of the Davison years, but it's easily one of the most enjoyable and straight-forward Who stories the era produced.

Four Doomsday was the first Davison story filmed in an attempt to give the cast a chance to gel a bit before they did the re-generation story. And it's obvious in some spots that the regular cast is still figuring out just who these characters are they're playing in the story. And, for the most part, the awkwardness of the new TARDIS crew and not yet trusting each other works quite well for the story. Tegan's suspicious nature, Adric's apparent betrayal of the crew, and Nyssa's niavity in following the new Doctor blindly all add up to one of the better ensemble efforts of the Davison's era.

In fact, this story is one of the more character balanced stories of the fifth Doctor's era. One of my major complaints about the Davison years is that it had too many interesting characters in the TARDIS at one time, meaning one of the companions usually got the short end of the stick in terms of on-screen time or useful contributions to the plot. Not so in Four Doomsday. Each companion has a moment to shine and develop a bit. It shows that a good balance can be achieved by having the Doctor and three companions--if it's done right.

Overall, the story's not too bad. Monarch and company want to invade Earth and the Doctor is the only thing standing against them. It's a third Doctor UNIT story that takes place on the spaceship instead of actually once the ship arrives on Earth. It's an interesting change of pace. And certainly it has one of the most straight-forward plotlines of the early Davison stories. The main goal is to stop the aliens from invading Earth, but whatever means possible. Other Davison stories suffer from a lack of focus (Earthshock is a main culprit!) while Four Doomsday revels in the fact that it's got a simple focus--stopping Monarch's proposed invasion.

Overall, I don't think Four Doomsday deserves the bad rap it's been given over the years. It's certainly not by any means the worst story the fifth Doctor will see. It's just a fun, straight-foward Who story with some great character bits.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/7/99

Four To Doomsday is definitely a story that can be defined as "a triumph of style over content"; Not that this is a bad thing, far from it. Certainly it is low on action but this is made up for by the character interaction especially between the four regulars. Peter Davison seems a lot more settled in the role of The Fifth Doctor, than in Castrovalva (especially when this was the first story he made). Janet Fielding`s Tegan begins to show her more bolshy side,especially after Adric`s chauvinistic comments directed at her and Nyssa.While Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse make a great pairing.Stratford Johns is equally impressive as Monarch, a villain whose benevolence makes him want the Earth, rather than his own selfish reasons.

Four To Doomsday is best remembered for its visuals however, particularly the model shots of the Urbankan ship and The Doctor`s scientifically implausible space walking. So if you`re looking for a visually impressive, yet basically straightforward tale of alien invasion, you could do a lot worse than watch this story.


The Frog Chorus by Andrew Wixon 23/4/02

As the real first appearance of Peter Davison as the Doctor, Four to Doomsday was always going to be an interesting story. But no-one, surely, had any idea as to just how off-the-wall it was going to turn out to be. Not in an obvious, Cartmelish, Happiness Patrol-style way, but in a more subtle, peculiar manner.

Let's just look again at that plot: a giant extraterrestrial frog is heading for Earth aboard a giant spaceship. For company he has brought along some native Australians, some South Americans, some Chinese guys and a Greek philosopher (all of whom are, of course, androids). The frog plans to shrink the population of Earth and use the planet to make a load of silicon chips. His ultimate plan is to go back in time and meet God. (And this is before we even get started on the ethnic dancing and the spacewalk sequence!)

Now DW's asked us to believe in some pretty implausible set-ups in the past, but this was most often because of budget limitations or the desire to pastiche a particular style or movie (the most obvious example being Pyramids of Mars). But why here? You almost get the impression writer Terence Dudley was given a list of elements to include in his script in order to win a bet. It doesn't feel like Doctor Who, somehow - but then it doesn't feel like anything else, either.

But it's a well-realised script with outstanding effects work on the monopticons and the Urbankan beam-guns, and Stratford Johns is an unusual villain. There are some terrific lines in it, too: 'You may keep the pencil,' etc. Not to mention two 'what the hell's going on?' cliffhangers, in my mind always superior to the 'now get out of that!' variety. The climax is rather rushed and perfunctory, though, which lets things down a lot, and there is the spacewalk sequence to contend with. (Scientifically accurate or not, it still looks stupid.)

The regulars are more than usually interesting here, too. Only Nyssa is really recognisable - she's nice, quiet, brainy in a non-threatening way. Adric is at his most childish and strident and fails to convince. Tegan seems perpetually on the verge of some kind of psychotic episode. Davison's debut performance (recorded before Castrovalva, remember) seems him playing the Doctor in a much more quirky way than he's remembered for. There's a lot of humour in his performance, but also more authority and steel when the scene demands it (his 'you little idiot' speech to Adric, for example). It's certainly a more appealing fifth Doctor than the one he played for most of his incumbency. But that's Four to Doomsday all over - much stranger than you remember. Weird, but very watchable.


A bore to watch anyday by Tim Roll-Pickering 15/3/03

The series takes a step back towards its roots with this story, which sees the Doctor try to return one of his companions to their home but instead the TARDIS materialises somewhere else and during the course of the tale the TARDIS crew end up fiercely arguing with each other whilst one of their loyalties is severely questioned. Ironically the author, Terence Dudley, had been asked to contribute to the series way back in its formative years. But it takes a lot more than merely lifting themes from the past to tell a good tale and Four to Doomsday is severely lacking in this regard.

Fundamentally the story is just plain boring. There is no real sense of the scale of any threat and so what we're left with is a run around aboard an alien spaceship with some dancing and an attempt to be fashionable. The plot is extremely weak, whilst the attempts at charecterisation boil down to little more than some pointless bickering amongst the four that raises the question of why they even bother staying together or defending one another. The whole concept of a race of androids is perhaps good on paper but extremely poorly handled, whilst the revelation that Monarch himself remains in 'flesh time' is neither exciting nor surprising. It is more of a relief than anything else when the story is finally over.

The cast is not particularly notable with several of the actors merely going through the motions. Stratford Johns appears as Monarch but fails to bring a sense of true majesty to the part and so instead comes across as little more than an actor in a funny suit. Many of the other actors have taken their role as androids too literally, with even Paul Shelley (Persuasion) and Annie Lambert (Enlightenment) merely going through the motions. The four regulars all try to give good performances but are let down by the poor material with which they have to work.

Design wise Four to Doomsday is extremely straightforward with some non-spectacular sets and modelwork. The Recreationals are choreographed well but far too much attention is given to them., especially given how little attempt is made to justify their presence in the story. The direction is unspectacular and the whole result is a story that leaves the viewer wondering just why this tale was ever developed. 1/10


A kiddie nightmare... by Joe Ford 30/4/03

Dear of dear. What a mess. And just one story into Davison's tenure too. This a hotch potch of ideas, dull set pieces and characters that refuse to gel into any sort of coherent whole. I bought this from Woolworth's when it came out, tried to watch it, fell asleep halfway through episode three and took it back the next day for a refund. Paying my hard earned cash for this tripe? Never! I'll tape when it comes around on UK Gold and that will keep my fanboy completist heart and my conscience happy!

The biggest problem with Four to Doomsday is its awful plot. Is it about alien colonisation? Is it about scientific experiments? Or androids? Or space frogs who want to turn the Doctors monkey faced friends against him? Frankly it disturbs to me to think it might be about all of these but being the safe run-around that it is it doesn't explore any of these potentially interesting concepts adequately. With all these fascinating ideas being thrown about why are we forced to watch cultural dances (about three times???) and a whole bunch of corridor wandering (yes folks, Davison's talent for that wonderful Who staple starts here!). The four episodes sink lower and lower into mediocrity without even a good line or dazzling action scene to lift things up. And as if to make matters worse the ending is so desperately anti climatic you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place (shrinking the frog indeed!).

The next problem with Four to Doomsday is the woeful mis-characterised regulars. Has there ever been a more useless lineup than we experience here? Let's start with Adric, that goofy looking, toadying, atrociously acted wanker. I mean what is the point? JNT is said to have taken on the horrendous Matthew Waterhouse because he has an interesting face. Hmm, that's great (although it isn't that interesting... stomach churning springs to mind more) but surely he should be able to ACT too? Take to point his marvellous exit from the TARDIS where he looks up at the monoptocon and shouts "I said where is she?" as though he is a right hard geezer. The yellow pyjamas and whinging voice working against him, of course. Or even better when he later falls for the charms of Monarch and is so utterly stupid he is falling for the Doctor's 'oh no Monarch was right all along' act! And God give me strength his row with Tegan resulting in his head being smashed against a surface is the nadir of all companion scenes, two totally unlikable people screeching at each other nonsensically.

Ahhh Tegan. What a woman. Not two minutes into the story and she's managed to moan a bit and fit in her trademark "let's get back to the TARDIS" (which she repeats constantly until we want to ram a screwdriver through her ears repeatedly. We get it woman YOU HATE TIME TRAVEL... then shut up and get back in the TARDIS. Oh wait, she does and we're treated to some horribly unfunny scenes of Tegan getting in a flap because she accidentally materialised the TARDIS away from the ship (and how pathetic does she look pulling those levers?). If this wasn't enough she actually starts blubbing (yep that's two stories in a row... wasn't she supposed to be a strong woman?) and also has several screaming rows with the Doctor ("Let's just get to the TARDIS and GET out of here!!!!") which should have been excised in the editing suite. Oh and that row with Adric. If this is an example of Tegan in Eric Saward's capable hands we're in for three loooonnngggg years (too true).

I have been deeply critical of Peter Davison in the past that has led to a certain uproar on this site by those fans who actually believe this walking yawn was in fact the best we ever saw of the Doctor. Well hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Me thinks not! This another sterling example of Peter Davison's complete inadequacy to bring any sort of gravity to the part of the Doctor. People actually applaud his wandering around the ship in the first episode with that huge, waiting for a punch, grin on his face. Jesus if any location warranted a proper scientific examination (oh and a bit of caution) it would be a ship pulsing with red lights and gloomy corridors. But no. Davison is actually quite harmless in this (he does very little but sit around and chat until episode three) until he starts getting all worked up and squeaky voiced ("You're spoiling my concentration!") rushing around near the end of episode three as if the plot suddenly warranted it. His scenes with Monarch lack any kind of tension and upon recent re-watching his swim in space is an FX nightmare, all fringe lines around his lanky frame. Quite frankly his characterisation is ALL over the place, he's like a kid, an adult and an old man, youthful and exuberant, wise and crotchety and boringly contemplative. Okay so it is first story nerves and Davison wasn't quite sure what he was going to do with the part. Maybe he would later hone his skills and create a part that would be worthy to succeed the previous four. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah right.

I won't mention Nyssa as she doesn't do a whole lot (oops just mentioned her!) but just say Sarah Sutton deserves better than this. Thank God for Big Finish.

The acting from the guests stars is just atrocious. I mean I know they are supposed to be androids but please, inject a little character! Persuasion and Enlightenment look terrible when perched between Monarch spouting out cliched mechanical dialogue but once they finally DO something and get rough with Adric I was laughing my head off! Those poses once their power packs had been ripped away! Oh gee, someone score me some ecstasy to makes this nonsense watchable! And then there are the cultural folks, you know Lin Futu whathisface and the others... get off the screen if you aren't going to display any kind of charisma! I can remember a robot dog who had more charm and character than you guys! The end of episode two deserves to be an emotional moment, one that really tugs at your heartstrings. This poor old bloke revealing there is nothing to him but a microchip. And yet it's acted so badly you just don't give a shit. In fact you're glad that he is a robot, your faith that humanity hasn't lost all of its personality in the future. The less I say about Stratford Jones' very human sounding alien the better.

Oh the last episode! Monarch raging through the crowds of Chinese, Aborigine, etc dancers to get to the TARDIS... it's all so mundane. This is Doctor Who doing spaceships and robots, real science fiction but there is nothing crowd pleasing about this tedious tale. The sets are detailed but too worthy for this story. They really should have belonged to Warriors of the Deep. The musical score is too familiar, the same notes rattling out over and over until you want to sack Jonathon Gibbs on the spot! The direction is suitably drab with no attempt to spice up proceedings by panning down corridors, fading out scenes or shooting high or low. At points it is as though the director walked out and left the camera pointing at the actors and let them get on with it.

Four to Doomsday is a nightmare too awful to contemplate. I've seen my fair share of bad Doctor Who (Silver Nemesis, The Dominators, Timelash) but none of them are as insomniac pleasing as this one. With no clear narrative, a handful of despicable regulars, wooden guests stars and no atmosphere it could very well be Doctor Who's very own episode of Angel. A one note idea stretched beyond it's means with little talent that seems to go on foreveeeerrrrrrrrr.....

And that ending... (shakes his head and goes to make a cup of tea to cheer himself up...).


This Is Me by Mike Morris 20/6/03

Four To Doomsday is, in many ways, a complete oddball. It's the most perfect example of Season Eighteen storytelling, but takes place in Season Nineteen. It purports to feature big frogs, but actually features some aliens who don't resemble frogs at all except in the chromatic sense. It is often termed 'neglected', even though it's Davison's first 'real' story. It's a science-based story that features some woeful science, it's bursting with good ideas and is riddled with flaws. Even Davison's performance is contradictory; derided in some quarters, I've also seen the energy of his performance praised, in The Discontinuity Guide and DWM's review of the video release among others.

Is Four To Doomsday any good? In places. Is it crap? Sometimes. What's intriguing is that the various bits of crapness and quality occur in the most perfectly classified Davison-era standards. The bad bits of the Davison era all crop up here. The good elements are present in spades. Davison-era fans will enjoy this; antifans of the wet vet will hate it and probably be bored silly. As witnessed by the fact that lovable old Joey Ford has decried this as a crime against humanity, although I've quite a grá for this little tale. Its numerous flaws bubble under the surface for the first two episodes, emerge in the third, and then splatter all over the place in Part Four like an explosion in a pizza factory. But yes, I love it.

The above paragraph might imply that this is a fine exemplar of the Davison era, and yet it's also atypical. As I said, it's more like a Season Eighteen story, with its reliance on big ideas and scientific concepts to push the story forward. Perhaps this is why the more Davison-era elements - the TARDIS-crew soap, the Tegan-Adric-Doctor squabbles, the special-effects and set-pieces - stand out more clearly against a less than familiar background. There are so many Season Eighteen elements that I suspect this may have been originally commissioned by Chris Bidmead.

Bidmead would have been proud of this story in many ways, disappointed in many others. It looks magnificent, with the sets, lighting and camera angles all working a treat, and the Urbankan make-up job is exquisite, although Monarch is rather more recognisably human than the others and so less impressive. Chris Bidmead would have been happy with the profusion of hard science too, although this all rather unravels in the story's latter half.

In terms of events, the plot is - well - light. This is what makes the story so odd; very little happens on board the spaceship, the story instead relying on its concepts to push it along. For the first two episodes it does this perfectly; it's a striptease of ideas, one peeling back to reveal another. The watchers are revealed, and their purpose explained; the four cultural leaders appear; Enlightenment and Persuasion change form; the floral chamber and the recreational make their appearance; we find there are three billion Urbankans on board; and then Bigon reveals himself to be an android. Two of these ideas are so strong that they actually form cliffhangers. This approach is aided no end by the direction and the script, which give room for characters to actually, you know, react to stuff. Enlightenment and Persuasion's transformation is strange enough, but what really lends it weight is the reaction of Nyssa and Tegan. Another example is the conversation between Kukuchi and Tegan, and her reaction - stuck on a spaceship with an alien she doesn't yet trust and four ancient humans who claim to be going to heaven, Tegan says immediately, 'I want to go.' It's one of those moments that Doctor Who didn't really do all that much, having a companion actually react to the sheer strangeness without screaming and wisecracks, just fear and incomprehension.

I think Parts One and Two of Four To Doomsday are really, really good. I understand that some might find it boring; after all it doesn't have any guns or shouting, no-one gets thrown in a cell and there aren't even any of those dramatic Doctor Who scenes involving corridors and running. Personally, I knew very little about this story when I first watched it, and the sight of an aborigine walking through the spaceship door was jaw-droppingly incongruous. I didn't need him to come through waving a gun, thank you. By Part Two I was wondering why I hadn't previously heard anyone refer to this as an all-time great.

I got my answer, as the story then runs out of steam quite badly. There's one huge scientific flaw in particular, namely that the ship is supposed to be travelling at sublight speeds but no mention is made of time dilation. Obviously, in sci-fi time dilation is often tactfully ignored; but here it's less excusable because the basis of the whole story is the theory of relativity. As it is, it's dismissed as e=mc2. Which is stupid; Monarch's whole plan is based on going faster than light to go backwards in time, and this is never even explained. As such Monarch's plan appears to be gobbledygook. And it's not as though it would have been difficult to put a five-line explanation of time dilation in, which would have hugely enhanced the last two episodes.

As it is, the story rather falls apart here. Lots of logic doesn't really hold up - Monarch invading Earth for silicon is, well, a crap reason. Why didn't he invade it ten thousand years ago?

Worse; all that's really happening for the duration of the story is that a spaceship's going somewhere and all the Doctor has to is turn it around. So the slack's taken up with the Doctor's companions being stupid.

This is a good chunk of a reason why Davison-lovers will enjoy it but Davison-haters won't. For those who think Tegan is a moany load stupid woman, she spends her time being a moany loud and stupid. For those of us who love this moany loud stupid woman, though, it's a delight. I'd also suggest that criticising Tegan for being a bit hysterical is a little unfair. After all, this woman has just seen her aunt get killed, is stuck on a spaceship with an alien who died, was re-born and has since been acting barmy, and while she's faced with the prospect of her planet being invaded has to cope with the blithering idiot prattling about Francis Drake. I think she's entitled to be a bit off- colour. "I think they're mad... I think you are too," she says at one stage, bringing this home. The audience might be used to invasions of earth and regeneration, but Tegan isn't, and it's all quite ironic; as is her joy at getting the TARDIS to move, while the audience is yelling WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU STUPID WOMAN... so maybe we should cut her a bit of slack. In fact, the obviousness of Tegan not trusting the Doctor gives this element a real edge.

(The aforementioned TARDIS scene is rather muffed up by Monarch's classic crap line upon seeing the TARDIS dematerialise; "So, it goes!" Somehow that's the story in microcosm.)

Adric is incredibly stupid, after an opening which actually had me liking him. It's a problem for a writer, how to deal with a dislikeable teenager. Terence Dudley's approach is to make Adric really dislikeable, and hence kind of great. The scene where Adric tells Nyssa she's not a woman, just a girl, is incredibly funny. Funnier still is his scene with Tegan, when she worries about losing her job; "Learn some maths and you might get a better one".

Then Adric goes over to the other side, which always a crap idea since you know he won't stay there. There's a certain merit to this - Adric, as a scientifically-minded and emotionally immature teenager, might well find the idea of synthetic bodies abstractly attractive. It's a good contrast with Nyssa, who has a similar mind but whose emotions are well-developed and sees Monarch's work as the tyranny it is. However, it's ploddingly handled, and Matthew Waterworks reverts to his customary shitness. He later ends up changing his mind again just because the Doctor asks him to. Pointless.

Nyssa, meanwhile, gets ignored as usual. To be fair, as an eleventh-hour addition it must have been hard to accommodate her into the story, but even so it's disappointing.

And then there's the Doctor.

Oddly, a lot of people enjoy Davison's performance here more than in his later stories. Others criticise it, various people (both on this site and elsewhere) accusing him of not knowing how he wants to play it (although the same people might often accuse his Doctor of being too predictable, as an aside).

There is an element of truth to that criticism though. I find the energy of Davison's portrayal pretty good, and I wouldn't agree that he's completely all over the place, but certainly there are times when his performance shows cracks. Essentially, all I ever want from my Doctor is that they're believable. This is why Tom and Peter are my favourite Doctors; because they're the most natural, whereas Colin and Sylv and even Troughton always seem to be actors playing a part. But frequently in Four To Doomsday Davison isn't believable, for an obvious reason; it's his first story. And the fault, I'd suggest, is more JNT's than Davison's; his decision to record this story first was a mistake.

I'll clarify. The 'second' story for each new Doctor is arguably more important than the first in terms of establishing the new Doctor as a character. The debut stories of most of the later Doctors were more concerned with dispelling the memory of the predecessor than putting the new guy in place. Tom capers around in Robot so that we know he's different to Jon Pertwee, but it's really Part One of The Ark In Space that sets the template for his own performance. Similarly, I've already said in my Season 21 review that The Twin Dilemma is more about the Fifth Doctor than the Sixth, with Baker's true character surfacing in Attack of the Cybermen; and McCoy's debut in Time and the Rani is best forgotten. By the same token, Davison doesn't really give much of the Fifth Doctor away in Castrovalva, as for most of that story he's acting crazy or in a box. All Castrovalva tells us about the Fifth Doctor is that he's not the Fourth. So it's Four To Doomsday where his Doctor emerges, which is unfortunate as he's still obviously finding the role.

Imagine if Tom had performed in The Ark in Space as he did in Robot; it wouldn't be so great now would it? The fact is that it makes perfect sense for the debut story to be recorded first, because the need to play a new Doctor discovering his own character perfectly masks the fact that the actor also searching for that character. Bearing this in mind, Davison's debut is actually far better than a great deal of others. Hartnell, Tom and McGann were all better, but in comparison with Pertwee's crass comedy, McCoy's woefully irritating debut and Colin Baker's dreadfully misjudged and hammy initial performance Davison positively shines.

As a performance it reads very clearly, in fact. The new Doctor is struggling to come to terms with his new body, and his early attempts to stamp his authority in the TARDIS ('take your cue from me') come across as an ineffectual schoolteacher. Similarly ineffective are his attempts at humour; the Urbankans meet his one-liners with blank incomprehension, and while Tom might have gotten away with his carelessness towards Tegan (I once knew a fellow, name of Drake...) the Fifth Doctor no longer has the natural authority to act that way. As the story goes on, though, he becomes more comfortable with himself; his chastisement of Adric as a 'young idiot' shows him waspishly finding his feet. Yes, there are badly-acted moments - the 'you're disturbing my concentration' scene is poor, and the scene where he pretends to have softened towards Monarch is atrocious. But occasional blemishes aside I think his performance is clear and well- thought out.

Performances aside, there are further irritating inconsistencies; for example, the poison that could eradicate the entire population of Earth is released and eradicates precisely one person (shades of The Android Invasion there). I find it acceptable that the Doctor can go without oxygen and withstand the temperatures of outer space, but why his body doesn't explode in the vacuum I don't know. The utilisation of the android's fail-safe stretches credibility. And Monarch wobbling aimlessly around the ship is not the finale a story needs.

The positives more than compensate, though. This story bursts with great moments and fine dialogue, which shouldn't be forgotten. 'Friendly I hope,' Bigon's first appearance, the end of the gladiatorial contest and Tegan's reaction, 'You may keep the pencil', the cricket ball in space, 'decircuit that,' 'there is no Ultimate to find', 'we need doubt, it's a great intellectual galvaniser', and most scenes with (ooh she's lovely) Enlightenment in them - particularly her beautifully cold description of love as 'the exchange of two fantasies'. The recreational may be overused, but the idea is brave and different and impressive.

Part Two's conclusion deserves special mention. I'm amazed that in his above review Joe Ford savages this scene, as it's easily one of the best of the Davison era. Enough clues have been left that everyone's an android, but the visual revelation of Bigon opening his own chest is disturbing. The flat, careless way he holds a microcircuit in front of his face, and his uneven stare are chilling. The final delivery of his line is quiet, inflectionless, and a perfect example of how to disturb the audience without resorting to shouting or machismo. 'This is me.' Since I've watched most Doctor Who episodes as an adult, it's rare that the programme has ever really frightened me; but that cliffhanger left me genuinely unsettled. It's subtle and modest and magnificent. There's no need for any crappy cliched gun-waving Who melodrama; CGI wouldn't improve Citizen Kane.

Anyway; what to make of this overall? It's partially brilliant, partially hopeless; one can plainly see the strong and weak elements of the story, and by extension of Davison's tenure. Had it been made a year earlier it would have been far better. Still, it's bright and bubbly and intelligent, a story that makes no apologies for itself, a story that brings together adult thought and childish plotting. And it's criminal to ignore a story that has so many good bits and good ideas.

The results of this mish-mash are endlessly enjoyable. You know, if you like that sort of thing.


A Review by Brett Walther 26/10/04

Has there even been a Doctor Who story that's as much of a mixed bag as Four to Doomsday?

It's a dizzying four episodes, soaring to great heights at times, only to come crashing down to some of the lamest scenes in the series' history. It's a curious mixture of the banal and the fascinating; of cliche and innovation, and I must confess I'm completely disoriented after watching it and almost unsure of what to make of it.

It certainly doesn't start off well, with one the most atrociously executed "TARDIS crew banter" scenes of the Davison years. Normally, I love the soap opera-esque antics of the Season Nineteen gang of the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, but in this sequence, it reaches an all time low. Janet Fielding is desperately bad here, hindered by an excruciatingly bad hairstyle, I imagine. Her performance is so weak -- perhaps I should offer some forgiveness here, seeing as production-wise, she'd only previously appeared in Logopolis -- it's impossible to tell whether she's being sarcastic in her delivery of the lines, or if Tegan is being just plain stupid. On top of this, Terence Dudley throws in a "battle of the sexes" argument between Adric and the girls, which falls flat on its face.

Venturing out of the TARDIS, we can only sympathize with Tegan as the Doctor, Adric and Nyssa push the nerd-factor into overload by marvelling about the spaceship's technology for what seems like an eternity. It's hard enough to get worked up about some piece of equipment I've never even heard of, without having to endure Sarah Sutton's bland delivery -- if you're excited about these things, then is it too much to ask for you to actually sound excited?

Compare this to Stratford John's quite delicious portrayal of Monarch, and it's almost as if you're watching another episode entirely. I love how one second, he's commenting on how civilized his Urbankan rule is, and then, in a completely icy tone of voice, orders Control to "isolate the girl", an order followed by the screen showing Nyssa prowling about the ship going black. It's wonderfully sinister, made all the more effective by Monarch's thin veil of civility and benevolence.

It's as if John's professionalism is contagious, thankfully, as things improve for a while on the acting front. There's actually some genuinely funny moments as Tegan, the Doctor and Adric are in the Throne Room, with Tegan bitching about losing her job, and Adric quite cattily adding that if she'd studied maths, she could have had a better job altogether.

There are wonderful moments scattered sporadically throughout the first three parts, in fact, including Tegan's rather startling "We're all going to Heaven!" after speaking with the Aboriginal. I also like the concept of the Recreationals, insomuch as they serve to emphasize the hollow nature of existence after "Flesh Time". It's just window-dressing, made all the more powerful with the suggestion that the Urbankans have no social culture of their own.

Groan-worthy moments are also, unfortunately, in abundance, and they start overwhelming the positive aspects of the story about halfway through. We have the unintentionally hilarious sequence in which Lin Futu is preparing Nyssa in the android infirmary, sounding like he's cooking dinner: "Five minutes," he says, after seeing how she's coming along. One almost expects him to whip out some pot holders or oven mitts while handling her. And then there's the positively stupid conclusion, in which a vial containing enough poison to destroy the entire population of Earth is broken in the same room as the Doctor and company, but only results in the shrinking of Monarch...

The cliffhangers also range from the sublime to the mundane. Part One has one of my favourite shock moments of the Eighties, as Enlightenment and Persuasion make a rather grand entrance as Tegan's sketches come to life. It's bizarre, startling and serves to highlight the dangerous power of Monarch, succeeding in drawing us in to Part Two. But compare Part One's cliffhanger to the bland threat of beheading the Doctor at the end of Part Three, and the patchiness of Four to Doomsday becomes even clearer.

Four to Doomsday is equally inconsistent when it comes to its visuals. Although the Monopticons are achieved extraordinarily well, we have to deal with those horrendously designed space helmets, and even worse, Nyssa's "android-making cap" with the googly eyes!

And for someone who insists on calling salt "sodium chloride" (ugh! Doesn't that line of dialogue grate?), the inconsistencies in the script become glaringly obvious when in Part Two, Adric claims never to have heard of photosynthesis! Rather odd for someone who grew up on a jungle planet.

I'm actually quite surprised at how confident Davison seems in the role of the Doctor. My vague recollection of this story before re-watching it was that it was an extremely variable and poorly-defined performance, but I definitely can't find anything serious to gripe about. Furthermore, it must be noted that Janet Fielding's performance improves a hundredfold after those shaky first few scenes, and it's impossible not to cheer her on when in Part Three, she acts on a million viewers' fantasies by knocking Adric unconscious. The lovely Adric-bashing continues in Part Four, with a deliciously furious Doctor calling him a "young idiot".

And I love Paul Shelley as Persuasion -- the dinner suit and his wonderful delivery makes for a delightfully suave enemy. He and Enlightenment, played by Annie Lambert, are Dynasty-esque bitches come to life, both in appearance and in their cattiness. Enlightenment's little wave as she chucks the Doctor's life-rope off the ship at the end of Part Four is way-cool.

In the end, I honestly don't know what to make of this one. Varying dramatically in quality from scene to scene, Four to Doomsday is certainly the patchiest Doctor Who I've ever seen.

5/10


A Review by Adrian Sherlock 1/11/04

This is Peter Davison's first recorded story and in this story he really does look like a young lad given the role of Dr. Who by mistake. However, he's a great actor and very convincing and his experimental performance in this story is its greatest strength, as he displays anger, wit, and an old-fashioned heroic quality not seen on the show for some time. Guest star Stratford Johns is also superb as the Monarch of Urbanka, a sinister villain whose game of cat and mouse with the Doctor is what makes this story worth watching. The sets and costumes are also very good and the whole thing looks very stylish.

The plot is rather thin, the script feels like it could have used some polishing to get rid of rough edges and the acting by some of the companions is a bit ropey and forced. But flaws aside, this is a great way for the Davison era to kick off after the rather odd Castrovalva which wrapped up the Master Trilogy. The imagery of space ships, aliens, androids and ray guns gives Doomsday a nice space opera feel and the philosophical themes about immortality are very interesting. It probably deserves a better reputation as a solid story, not a classic, but well worth your time.

For me personally, it is the story which sold me on the Fifth Doctor after I spent the whole of Castrovalva wondering if I was going to like this new guy and how I could ever get over Tom Baker. When Peter bounced the cricket ball off the hull of Monarch's ship, I decided this was "my Doctor." Oh and both Nyssa and the Doctor tell Adric to "shut up" in this story! Something for everyone, you might say!


In The Kingdom Of the Frog by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 24/3/08

Look at that opening! Just look at it. Straight out of Alien, which just happens to be my favourite film. I wonder if Monarch's ship is called the Nostromo? In fact, even the basic shape of Monarch's ship is vaguely similar to the Nostromo towing its refinery. Doctor Who has always been influenced by films and if you're going to pay homage to them you may as well do the best ones.

Anyway, Four To Doomsday... I really like it. It's certainly an unusual story and I think that that is all part of its charm. The first time I saw it, I wasn't particularly keen on it. It seemed to lack a certain amount of soul. However, after rewatching it many times, I now see that it has soul in abundance. It's the visual aspect of this story that really gets my attention. The recreationals for example. Here we have Mayans, Greeks, Aborigines and Chinese holding ceremonies of cultural representation aboard an alien spacecraft. Doctor Who always delights in placing the strange and the familiar side by side, but this story really takes that to a new level.

Season Nineteen is very strong, in my opinion. Even Time-Flight I find watchable, if somewhat excruciating. I can't really find the desire to be particularly cruel to it, so I'm not going to. I suppose quite what you think of it as a season really rather depends on how much you like Peter Davison's Doctor. To this very day, people are far too eager to criticise his portrayal of the character and I think it's entirely unfair. Yes, he's a very different Doctor to Tom Baker and if you were watching the programme back in 1982 then his take on the Doctor may have been a little difficult to get used to. But this is 2008, not 1982. I still hear people say that they don't like Peter Davison because he wasn't as good as Tom Baker. 26 years on, that's a fucking piss-poor argument quite frankly. The Fifth Doctor is youthful, energetic, charming, shrewd, witty... If he doesn't possess the authority of the Fourth Doctor and has trouble keeping people alive (including his own companions), then this should be viewed as an interesting character trait. A once authoritative, powerful man has now become someone that often fails to effectively command attention. Result? People die. He's aware that he is less then he was. Oh, the agonising...

The point I'm trying to make is that I like the Fifth Doctor. I always have and I find the criticisms of some people to be without solid foundation. So nyaah! Peter Davison also seems to get the hang of the character right from the start. All the traits for which this Doctor became famous are here in this very story. Good work, Pete. Unfortunately, I can't sing the praises of the Nyssa, Adric and Tegan. They are probably the worst thing about this story. Nyssa is just about OK. The problem is that she is somewhat underused (a recurring theme for her character). She is vastly more intelligent than the other two and therefore should be put to more practical use. However, that faint at the end of episode four is extremely unconvincing. Tegan is hopeless. Now, I'm not a Tegan hater and she will get much better as the series progresses but here she's at her nadir. Whinging, blubbing, getting hysterical... She's an air stewardess, so she's supposed to be good under pressure. No wonder she gets sacked after Time-Flight. Janet Fielding's acting abilities just seem to be having an off day.

Adric. Yes, this whingeing little bastard is going to get a paragraph all to himself, just so that I can properly vent my spleen. I detest Adric. I like to occasionally go against general fan opinion but that's not going to happen here. Matthew Waterhouse's performance as Adric never rose above 'bollocks' quality. This is possibly as low as it ever went. He just cannot act. AT ALL!!! Why, in the name of all the angels, did JNT give him a job? I'm not a JNT hater but he did make some serious errors of judgement and this was one of the worst. As a character in Four To Doomsday, Adric is selfish, idiotic, naive, petty, stuck up and utterly deserving of a horrible death. Ha ha ha, only a few more stories to Earthshock. Just look at the little twat sucking up to Monarch. He's asking for it, he really is. The most satisfying moment is when Tegan renders him unconscious. Go back and kick him love, you know you want to. Oh, go on. In fact, I can't wait until Earthshock. While he's unconscious, Tegan darling, drag him to the nearest airlock and throw him out.

Anyway, from shitty little characters to superb characters. Monarch. Quite simply one of the finest Who villains ever. Just listen to his enunciation. Just listen to his threats. Just listen to everything he ever says. When Bigon says that the Doctor's hand will be against him, Monarch replies, "Then I will cut it off!" Priceless. And, of course, how do you deal with a crackpot frog? You shrink him and then you stick him under a helmet. Of course, being frogs, the Urbankans have a penchant for green. Enlightenment and Persuasion certainly do when they take on human form. I think that these two make a very effective pair of lackeys and all three Urbankans have good chemistry with each other. Bigon and Lin Futu both come across as being likeable and strangely charming. If you're a fan of Philip Locke you can see him being impaled to a tree in the James Bond film Thunderball. Bert Kwouk seems to currently reside in Last of the Summer Wine.

The sets, although largely interchangeable, do create the appropriate sense of spaceshippery sameness. But the blandness is entirely in keeping with the story. After all, Monarch says that conformity is the only freedom and, apparently, Urbanka has no comparable culture as such concepts are for the primitive. The music is serviceable but makes no great impression, which is a shame when you consider that Roger Limb's first score for The Keeper of Traken was so much more distinctive than this one. Castrovalva and The Visitation also both have very strong scores and really stand out form the whole season.

If you can get past Tegan and Adric and aren't too annoyed by that spacewalking scene, then you should enjoy this story.


Directional Cobalt Flux! by Hugh Sturgess 29/3/10

Four to Doomsday is one of the oddest Doctor Who stories in the programme's history, and not always in a good Warriors' Gate kind of way. The basic premise is pleasantly loopy and so distinctly Who-ish that you fondly remember the barminess of the 1960s (think of the similarities in setting between this and The Ark), and at times it's goofy enough to have musical numbers. The acting is at times appalling, the direction sometimes flat, the plot sometimes lightweight-to-nonexistent and some developments are just mental, but at other times all of these factors are brilliant. This is the definition of a mixed bag.

To begin with, the acting is incredibly, indescribably bad. The opening scene with the regulars is appalling and only Peter Davison manages to scrape through with respectability, but even he's damaged by having to act off such wooden companions. Remarkably, Sarah Sutton comes off better than Janet Fielding, who spends episode one giving some of the worst acting ever seen from a series regular. Witness her mistimed enthusiasm when she announces: "Great! So I can catch a train!" Subsequently, Adric launches into a misogynistic rant that I'm utterly perplexed by. Was this meant to be funny? That's undermined by his petulant "you were meant to!" response to Tegan's muttered "I heard that", a line which makes the whole thing look like it's backfired horribly. Matched with his all-too-easy betrayal of the Doctor later in the story, it's as though the writers are wondering how many unlikeable qualities they can bestow on Adric.

For some reason, the Doctor spends this entire story giving out an impression that he couldn't care less. Davison is evidently settling into the role (this was his first recorded story), and opts for a bemused cheerfulness throughout. When Bigon explains why Monarch is such an evil guy, the Doctor just seems pleased. When Bigon reveals that he's an android, he's smiling casually despite the threat to the Earth. Maybe he's popped some valium to cope with his shrieking companions (presumably from Nyssa's supply).

I also noticed some really odd elements that suggest that there was a fundamental lack of communication between departments in this story. The technology on board the ship is supposedly "worthy of Gallifrey", because it boasts an interferometer and an electron microscope, which can be found in any western hospital (like the one in The Hand of Fear). While the Doctor is outside the Ship, Tegan worries that he might be in trouble - even though he's clearly visible on the scanner at the time. Many of the things Adric says about the Doctor are just plain wrong: "I've never known him to hurry anything" (!) and "He knows I'm no good with my hands!" (when Adric was supposed to be an Artful Dodger type; in other words, a selfish, untrustworthy son of a bitch, but still good with his hands).

Adric is as bad as he ever is in this story. Matthew Waterhouse is, of course, mesmerically awful, but I sense a character arc so botched that it's invisible, as he's changed from his chipper, curious self (with the fourth Doctor) to the self-obsessed loser of the Davison era. With the girls around to compete for the Doctor's attention (and note his horrified outburst when asked to remain with Nyssa rather than go with the Doctor), he's becoming increasingly petulant and mean. I also get the distinct impression that he doesn't wash, though admittedly this may not have been intended by the production team. His bitchiness makes the betrayal of the Doctor look motivated by spite rather than true belief.

I should also mention the theory that Adric is gay - if you can truly describe someone from another planet in another universe as "gay", when that's a sociological description more than anything. Oh, come on! Surely you've seen the pattern with Adric and older men? He lives on a planet where three old men are the biggest blokes in town, and spends the rest of his travels being picked up by the sugar-daddies of the galaxy (Aukon, Tremas, the Monitor, the Master and Monarch here). Perhaps he's into older guys and isn't turned on by the new Doctor, and that's why he's such an unbearable little creep. It would also explain his unconvincing misogyny: he's just pretending to be so butch he doesn't want to be around women, so no one will ask awkward questions. I don't know why I've devoted a whole paragraph to Adric's hypothetical sex life, when just the thought of him having sex with anyone, let alone Tom Baker or a giant frog-god, makes me want to sleep for billions of years. Anyway...

Tegan starts off bad but improves drastically. I know Joe Ford hates her with a passion, as seen in >a href=#7>his review above (I always love reading Joe's reviews, which I put down to his enthusiastic exclamation marks!), but I think her frantic desire to get the hell away from Monarch's ship in this story is brilliant and incredibly real. I sure know that I'd be desperate to leave if I knew that my host intended to kill me and create an android in my image. Her desperation and frustration are so broad as to be pisstakes, but they make Tegan one of the few cool characters in this story. She reminded me of the first Doctor in his "mean-spirited old ratbag" phase, particularly when the Doctor tries to get her interested in stopping Monarch and she replies "I don't care; I want to get back to the TARDIS and GET OUT OF HERE!" I laughed at that, because it's just not what you expected from a Doctor Who companion. And she must get points for beating up Adric before pissing off back to the TARDIS. Her desperation in the TARDIS is remarkably well-acted (considering how she starts the story). And, this being Janet Fielding, she manages to twist her child-friendly expletive "cripes!" into the pleasantly unexpected "Christ!"

The plot is lightweight in places, but the idea of Mayans, Ancient Greeks, Chinese and Aborigines having a corroboree on a big-arse spaceship ruled by a giant frog is so pleasingly mental that it can frequently fly over plot-holes and poor execution with simple charm. The dance and fight sequences are incredibly limp (the Greek sword fight is particularly flaccid), but the idea has to be appreciated. Sure, it's wacky, but a lot of the best Doctor Who ideas are wacky.

An idea that's just plain bad is rarely commented upon for geographical reasons. As an Australian, I'd say that no review of Four to Doomsday would be complete without a mention of the scene in which Tegan speaks to Kukudji in his own language. However, most viewers and reviewers of Doctor Who are British or North American, and so fail to appreciate how utterly demented this concept is. A Brisbane girl from 1981 fluently speaks a 35,000-year-old language which would have been just one among thousands in Australia at the time. That isn't "unlikely", it's completely and utterly stupid. A comparable situation would be for a modern-day Englishmen to speak the dialect of a Neanderthal. Even the Doctor seems bewildered.

All this is forgotten, however, when Stratford Johns appears on screen. A fantastic performer, Johns makes Monarch one of the most interesting villains in the show's history, helped along ably by Terrence Dudley's surprisingly elegant dialogue for the Urbankans. The sight of the frog-man in scintillating robes, in a throne room flanked by slinky human servants, is closer to the kind of Astonishing Stories pulp SF than anything else, and it works brilliantly. Monarch's motivation - a desire to travel back to the beginning of the universe "for a rendezvous with himself, the Creator" - is great because it's unanswerable: there's nothing the Doctor can do to convince Monarch of the error of his ways. His benevolence makes him interesting too, since there's nothing more boring than a ranting villain. And the Urbankans get all the best lines:

Of Nyssa: "One only harms what one fears."

Love is "an exchange of fantasies".

Whether it's acceptable for a host to kill a guest: "Oh, in certain rarified circles."

"Ah, conformity! There is no other freedom."

And, of course: "You may keep the pencil", which proves that even monsters can have comic timing.

Though, talking of dialogue, why does the Doctor have a line in appalling humour in this story? He's like Grissom from CSI. His response to "I'm Lin Futu" ("well, I'd never have guessed; you look in the best of health") is unbearable, and this after he is introduced to Persuasion ("friendly, I hope?"). However, I did like this exchange with Tegan:
DOCTOR: Tegan, how's your ancient history?

TEGAN: Like I feel: awful!

DOCTOR (as though this was helpful): Well, never mind, mine's pretty good.

And I have a great affection for the space-walking scene, even if it is scientifically loony.

Overall, there's the feeling that either Terrence Dudley wanted to write a gripping, contemplative, adult piece of science fiction and JNT wouldn't let him, or that Terrence Dudley wrote childish pap and JNT tried to spice it up with musical numbers and getting Eric Saward to look through Bartlett's Famous Quotations. It's overlong, of course, and in places staid. In fact, it would easily work best as a fifty-minute piece of television, if given modern resources for the sets and the space scene. This is how modern Who plays it, after all: one big, exciting concept at the heart of the story, with a blast of pop culture, scrapes and japes, and a bit of humanism ("in a perfect society, there is no substitute for democracy", says Bigon). The space-walking scene would have been really exciting with CGI and proper music. Four to Doomsday is worth cherishing, simply because of its oddness, and anyone who disagrees is missing out on something special. On the other hand, there are too many bad things in this story for it to be considered "great", or even terribly "good", and anyone who says otherwise is likewise deluded.