The Black Guardian Trilogy
The Black Guardian Trilogy Part One
|Dates||Mar. 1, 1983 -
Mar. 9, 1983
With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding,
Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson.
Written by Peter Grimwade. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Peter Moffatt. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
Synopsis: The Doctor discovers a spaceliner carrying a desperate passenger,
whose fate involves one of the Doctor's oldest friends: the Brigadier.
Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before? by Dennis McDermott 11/5/97
It's hard to dislike anything that the Bridgadier is in, and when you get a double dose of him, it is a special delight.
The fact of the matter is this is a delightful story. Forced to land on a automated ship by the Black Guardian, who is trying to destroy him for not turning over the Key of Time a few seasons back, the Doctor finds it harder to escape from the ship than to land on it. Mawdryn and his friends need the Doctor's remaining regenerates to create a merciful end. Meanwhile, Turlough has been recruited by the Black Guardian to kill the Doctor.
In the middle, the Brigadier. In a way, he makes the story, stomping around and giving everyone orders. Anyone else acted like that and they'd get punched out; the Brigadier, however, seems to be able to pull it off and still be likeable.
But what I like most about this story is how it makes us think. Between this and Enlightenment, it has to make you wonder if eternal life is all that great.
The problems in this story are fairly minor. Why the Doctors can meet themselves with no problem at all, but have two Brigadiers meet and, as Tegan would say, zap! is beyond me. And have you ever wondered why when people are shrunk or revert back to youth their clothes always shrink with them? (And watch the Brigadier hands when he's laid out in the grass at the end of the story.) This is minor though; this is a recommended story.
The Doctor Undead by Carl West 11/4/98
Brigadier: I feel as though someone just walked over my
Doctor: Perhaps it was a Yeti, Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart?
Mawdryn Undead is one of those great Davison-era stories that strongly tied the program to its epic past. The prime moment in this story is of course the scene where the names "Jo Grant," "Sarah Jane Smith," and "Liz Shaw" begin echoing in the Brigadier's mind, breaking through his mysterious amnesia and causing him to have one of those classic Doctor Who flashback sequences (an excellent montage of images from the BBC Archives). Peter Davison and Nicholas Courtney end up making a wonderful team in this story. I've always regarded the cricketeering Fifth Doctor as probably the most British of the Doctors, and his character harmonizes well with Lethbridge-Stewart, mathematics teacher at an English public school.
My favorite element from Mawdryn Undead, though, is David Collings as the title character. I've often thought that Collings would have made an excellent Doctor if he had been asked to play the role (perhaps he could have been a slightly more neurotic Doctor, like his portrayal of Poul in Robots of Death). His portrayal of the mysterious Mawdryn in this story expresses the suffering and fatigue of the character and his fellow immortals, and Collings adds a subtle touch of elegance to the character.
The lovely art gallery-like interior of Mawdryn's ship adds well to the mystique of the story too. The grounds of Turlough's public school provide for some memorable location filming. Despite it's heavy link with the program's past, Mawdryn Undead does indeed stand on it's own as an excellent television drama.
What I really want to know is whether or not that wonderful soundtrack music is available anywhere?
Season 20's Best Story by Michael Hickerson 5/5/98
The twentieth annivesary season of Doctor Who was one for celebration and reflection The series took a chance to not only celebrate it's past, but also re-examine it. In some cases, it worked well, in others it left me cold.
Mawdryn Undead is one of those stories that worked extremely well. In fact, it's not going out too far on a limb to say it's probably the best story of the twentieth anniversary season.
The story features a lot of nods to the series continuity (or lack thereof!) to keep long time fans happy while not having the nods be so intrusive as to take away from casual fans's enjoyment of the show. With subtle homages such as Mawdryn using the fourth Doctor's coat as a blanket to the return of the TARDIS homing device as well as the Brigadier's trip down memory lane, it's a wonderful piece of nostalgia for the fans.
But it's also got one of the stronger more rich plots of season twenty. Indeed, my one biggest complaint is that it seems to wrap up too quickly. But it's not for a lack of interesting ideas on the way. One of the best being a group of passive-aggressive villains who don't force the Doctor do help them by violence but rather by giving him no alternative.
Add to a gripping plot some strong performances: Davison turns in one of his better performances as Doctor in this one, and I don't think it's going too far to say that this may be Nicholas Courtney's finest performance as the Brigadier. He is effortlessly able to create two distinct versions of the same charcter as well as infuse the older Brigadier with intensity and sympathy from the viewers as he struggles with the events that happened in 1977. Finally, there is David Collins as Mawdryn. I think his performance is one of the more underrated in all of Doctor Who. One wonders if he might not have made an intersting Doctor.
Finally, I'd be remiss without drawing attention to some fine direction (I especially love how Mawdryn's group appears to float around their ship, almost Dalek-like when they move!) and, once again, a great soundtrack. If you're keeping track, this is yet another story's soundtrack I'd love to see released on CD. Especially the theme for Mawdryn and his crew as they move about the ship.
If nothing else, this well crafted story serves as an apology by Peter Grimwade for his horrific season 19 offering of Time Flight.
A Review by Jonathan Martin 1/8/02
The interesting thing about this story is that, for the first three episodes in particular, there is so much going on.
The Brigadier's memory loss, and the fact we've got a couple of them running (or should I say marching?) around, Turlough and his public schooling (he hates it, and it's wonderful to have someone to identify with), and later his 'partnership' with the Black Guardian.
And I haven't even touched upon Mawdryn himself, who, to be honest I found the least interesting part of the story. He pops up occasionally in the first few episodes, trying to convince the others he's the Doctor which in interesting, but when we actually discover who he is and what he wants, the story slows down considerably.
They certainly didn't waste the Brigadier's comeback in this, he's given so much to do that they needed more then one of him! He and Turlough are certainly the stars of Mawdryn Undead, the former making a triumphant return, and the latter making his mark as being (initially) the most interesting companion ever to have entered the TARDIS.
The best scenes involve each of these characters; mischevious Turlough and that hilarious schoolboy chum of his are alot of fun in the opening episode. Later on, with the Doctor trying to rouse some of the Brig's memories of their association, with those wonderful flashbacks that a previous reviewer mentioned.
The Doctor himself fades into the background for most of the story, and Davison is as uninspired as usual, but solid. His initial reaction to Turlough's presence is wonderful, however no other Doctor would be that receptive to Turlough being in the Tardis, but since Pete's giving the guest cast free-rides every second episode, it fits in here. Poor old Nyssa again does nothing here, but at least she looks pretty.
Overall, this is a very entertaining start to this trilogy, perhaps the least noticed 'story-arc' in the series.
Promising... by Joe Ford 25/8/02
Viewers must have felt very optimistic for the series when Mawdryn Undead was finished. They could shake off the unimaginable disaster of Arc of Infinity with the knowledge that Snakedance (a near classic) and this (perfectly good) had healed the wound that story gave the season. Unfortunately they weren't aware that Terminus and The King's Demons were on the way (lucky them!) but that doesn't matter at this point in the season. For this story and the last it appeared that JNT's continuity season was paying off.
One thing I love about Mawdryn Undead is the sophisticated way it deals with some quite weighty issues without losing sight that it still has to entertain people (something Kinda last year forgot entirely!). It feels quite odd for Doctor Who to be talking about suicide, consequences of criminal actions and time paradoxes but Peter Grimwade handles them all deftly wrapping them around a story which is quite definately Doctor Who.
I can remember when I first got the video being unimpressed with the very eighties graphics when Turlough makes his bargain with the Black Gaurdian and the screaming Doctor and co were doing about a silly ship on the screen. Very boring. But then something happened. The Brigadier was back! Turlough was loose in the TARDIS! He raised a giant rock over the Doctor's head in a very exciting cliffhanger! As soon as the very clever second episode began with the cross cutting off time-zones and with all the mysteries being thrown up (who was the mysterious bruised creature? Did the Brigadier go in the TARDIS? How did he lose his memory?), I was hooked. There is actually some quite complicated plotting involved here but (much like City of Death) it is vastly entertaining and never confusing thanks to an intelligent, well paced script by Grimwade and assured direction from Peter Moffatt (ahh too many Peters!).
Things get even better in the last two episodes with some marvellously scripted exchanges between Mawdryn and The Doctor (dialogue such as "losing his ability to regenerate is the price of his compassion" is not your average villanous speak). The whole moral dillemma is dealt with well and the way it takes blackmail (by his companions too!) for The Doctor to help is a new twist (especially on Davison's Doctor). Even better is the ending which satisfyingly resolves everything.
The production is standard JNT (and by that I mean good). The location work is very effective... I just love green, leafy location work and the British countryside here looks gorgeous and quite authentic for the setting it's supposed to be. The sets too are plush and colourful, not your average Doctor Who spaceship sets... you can tell a lot of care has gone into them and Moffatt's intruiging direction and ways of shooting things ensures no matter how much time we spend on either location it never becomes dull.
The music is pretty groovy too, it is a little intrusive in places and obscures some dialouge but Paddy Kingsland's overuse of the electric guitar at least means otherwise mundane moments are very exciting (when the ship appears on the screen in the TARDIS, and later when they rush out of it!). It is certainly a step up from Mr Johnathon Gibbs' music for Infinity and Terminus which just pollutes the drama entirely.
Despite her absence Sarah Sutton once again proves why she's an asset, outdoing Janet Fielding in practically every scene they're in despite the fact that Tegan gets the hulk of the dialouge (whinging, as usual). However there is one wonderful Tegan moment that took me entirely by surprise where she tenderly thanks The Doctor for his willingness to sacrifice himself for her and Nyssa. Why wasn't she more like this always? You can always rely on Nick Courtney to put an interesting spin on things and he is as solid as ever, seeming to relish a chance to flesh out his long standing character. Which is just as well as (and this is probably my strongest compaint about the story) Peter Davison is at his all time blandest in this story. When it is discovered what Mawdryn and the others have done he should have made the situation more meaty by showing his obvious disgust but he (thoughtful though it may be) seems to ponder the issue. He kills the third cliffhanger by underplaying it so much I didn't really care that "it would be the end of him as a Time Lord!". And he doesn't show his mistrust of Turlough nearly enough (seemingly a little naive!). However his embarassed reaction to Tegan's thankyou is great and redeems things slightly. Not one of his better days (sorry, one of his three better days!). However this is inconsequential as we have Mark Strickson and David Collins on board, Turlough who at this stage is extremely promising (another wasted opportunity) and the tortured Mawdryn who is one of the better characters to emerge from the Davison years.
I must just point out two scenes before I go to prove that Doctor Who, even in its more dire periods (and let's face it season twenty was pretty dire!) still offered up some magical moments. The first is where the Brigadier gets his memory back, superbly acted and the one time during this period that continuity was not only welcome but used effectively and the second is the last scene which is full of optimism and hope for the future and promises interesting things. Who cares if it doesn't deliver, it's still a heartwarming, enjoyable moment.
Maudlin Undead by Jason Cook 9/3/03
This is another of those stories with a quick start, immediately centering in on Turlough's manipulation abilities. He's not always great at it as we'll see later, but he definitely pulls the strings in his dysfunctional pseudo-friendship with Ibbotson. I noticed for the first time on this viewing that Ibbotson wipes Turlough's fingerprints off the car once Turlough's hand is out of the way. Turlough is obviously egging him on to take the car for a spin, setting him up for a fall. "We'll be caught!" "Who will know?" is funny considering that at least four other students are standing right there watching. Ibbotson does enjoys the attention and adventure of sitting in that car, and perhaps this has something to do with why he follows Turlough around. Then the crash, and "Your Guardian, one who has your best interests at heart (not to mention the worst case of bedhair in the Universe)." Valentine Dyall's voice is excellent for his role; I'd almost prefer not seeing his face though because he looks more grouchy than menacing.
The Doctor's reaction to the impending collision of the TARDIS with the spaceship seems ridiculously slow -- he just stands there staring at the scanner screen for several seconds. (Too much sibilance in that last sentence? Surely it was; I must sound like an Ice Warrior.)
Tegan clarifies her "cocktails with the captain" to Nyssa by comparing the ship to the Queen Mary. How does either reference help a girl from Traken? Tegan also makes a lot of snide cracks about the ship, so she must be back to her old self following the events of Snakedance. The Doctor doesn't speak for at least two minutes; Hartnell would've been chattering and giggling all over the place! (Not a critique there really, just a comparison.)
I like how Turlough says "A transmat capsule!" with great relief and excitement in his voice, then remembers he needs to taunt the codependent Ibbotson and adds, "Don't you know anything?!?" Turlough's character is most effective with a foil, and I wish Ibbotson had gone with him to the ship just to see how he'd react to Mawdryn and the other outcasts. Incidentally, it's pretty obvious that the Brig doesn't like Ibbotson any more than Turlough does. And I must add that Ibbotson reminds me of a heavier Skippy from Family Ties.
I have to laugh when I hear the Black Guardian say things like "In the name of all that is evil..." And I remembered that rock being much bigger for some reason.
If the Brigadier remembers UNIT, why the hell doesn't he remember all the alien races he encountered during its heyday? UNIT was formed specifically to deal with those alien races, after all. The Doctor questions finding the Brig at a boys' school, and in doing so he echoes the feelings of the audience. And people tend to rip on the JNT flashback sequences, but I think this one in particular works very well. It's interesting to think of how different it would have been if they'd been able to go with the original plan of featuring Ian in Mawdryn Undead rather than the Brig. They'd have a few black-and-white clips of Daleks, Sensorites, Tlotoxl, and (God forbid) Zarbi and that would be about it. But I would have liked to see the Ian version if it had worked out as well. As it stands, I love the scattered applause we hear from the game outside just as the Brigadier regains his memory. It is also amusing how the Brig is so offended by the suggestion that he may need therapy. And I like watching events from the two time zones back-to-back, one following on the heels of the other. Interspersed with all that we see that the bully Turlough is himself being bullied by the Black Guardian.
Mawdryn's speech to himself about the Time Lords seems extremely contrived, especially when he actually states his name out loud. Then there's this Tegan line: "Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, of course!" Of course, Nyssa, you really should have known that. Jeez. But I will say that the second episode has one of my favorite Who cliffhangers, which is chiefly due to that throbbing gash in Mawdryn's forehead...
Seems odd that the '83 Brigadier just happens to still have the homing device. You'd think he'd have thrown it out or lost it in six years' time. I don't know why though, but I really enjoy seeing him order people around, even if they often don't obey his orders. I also like "How long will the journey take?"
Okay, so didn't Mawdryn get his clothes from Nyssa and Tegan? So why are his fellow outcasts on the ship wearing identical clothes?... David Collings has very expressive eyes, particularly in the close-up when he says, "We cannot die." He makes Mawdryn one of the show's more sympathetic villains.
The outcasts glide in unison -- kinda creepy!!
The build-up to the big climax is very effective and suspenseful in my opinion. But you just know the 1977 Brigadier must've been swearing up a storm after Turlough trapped him in that tiny room. The polarity of the neutron flow is reversed once again, to the delight of fanboys everywhere. The aging of Tegan and Nyssa is effective, but then as they become children their clothes actually shrink! (Shades of the clones in The Invisible Enemy.) So why don't the Doctor and the Brigadier seem to be affected by Mawdryn's virus? Apart from this being a convenient plot device, I mean.
Nicholas Courtney has a wonderful line delivery in this episode. Just as they're about to take the Doctor's regenerations away, the Doc asks the Brig if he's all right. He says "Yes" with an incredible sorrow in his voice and on his face, showing clearly how close a friend he considers the Doctor to be. Courtney distinguishes quite well between the two versions of the Brigadier, giving the 1983 version considerably more grumpiness. But why is it that when he returns for The Five Doctors he basically does the 1977 Brig, even though he'd have to be the '83 because he recognizes Tegan? (Sorry, I'll save that one for some other time.)
"Stop him, or I shall destroy you all!" Such a cheesy line -- TBG gets most of the cheesy lines in this story. As for Mawdryn, I like "It is finished" but "Can this... be death?" seems a bit over the top. Then Turlough joins, and it's all over.
FINAL ANSWER: Complex storyline, fairly well thought out but with several loose ends at the same time. Still a personal favorite. Davison and Strickson do a great job, and Fielding and Sutton do okay although neither girl really stands out to me either way. Doctor Who didn't do enough time-travel-screwing-things-up stories, and this is a pretty good one.
Highly intelligent by Tim Roll-Pickering 11/4/03
Virtually anyone who ever reviews this story bring up the continuity at some point so let's start there. This story makes two major contributions to the series' continuity, both contradicting what was stated in the mid-1970s. At times it has been crucified for one yet the other seems to have been accepted full-scale with barely a whisper of protest. The latter is the fact that the Doctor has by this time regenerated four times and has eight regenerations left - something that had not been explicitly stated in the series at all before this point. This ties in with a throwaway line in The Three Doctors but contradicts The Brain of Morbius. But since most fans had by this point taken the view that 'William Hartnell was the original Doctor' to be a clear 'fact' it is unsurprising that this landmark in establishing continuity has been virtually overlooked, especially in light of the story's contribution to the question of UNIT dating. Yes that old chestnut. Mawdryn Undead makes it clear that the Brigadier retired in 1976 and therefore the UNIT stories all took place before then. This is more or less in line with Time-Flight (although no clear dates were given there it is clearly both contemporary and set after the Doctor's time with UNIT) and K9 & Company (where 1981 appears to be some years after Sarah finished travelling with the Doctor). But it's Mawdryn Undead which goes further than those two stories by setting down very clear dates that are in no way ambiguous. Given that the dates for UNIT were never clear in the first place as the dates established in The Web of Fear and The Invasion are clearly contradicted by that given in Pyramids of Mars whilst a whole host of deleted scenes, early draft scripts, internal memos, contemporary interviews and guides and the like just add to the confusion, it is completely unfair to single out Mawdryn Undead for going with the contemporary view. It is easy to suspect that the strong popularity of Pyramids of Mars has been a factor in this debate but it would be wrong to judge this story for supposedly getting something 'wrong' when there is no clear evidence just what is 'right'. And letting continuity get in the way of a good story is a dangerous course to take.
Otherwise there is a huge amount going for Mawdryn Undead. The decision to set the story in two time zones which are affecting each other is a bold one and makes for an intelligent story but at the same time the plot never becomes confusing and the two time zones don't get mixed up at all. Equally strong is the concept of Mawdryn and his fellow mutants who seek only to escape from their immortality and who come across as extremely sympathetic. The only real villain in the story is the Black Guardian, manipulating Turlough from afar and trying to get him to destroy the Doctor. Wisely this ongoing subplot is mixed in well with the story, providing an added sense of danger and uncertainty. The story sees the return of the Brigadier for the first time in eight years. There is nothing at all strange about a retired military officer ending up at a British public school as CO of the school's Combined Cadet Force or even taking on some teaching responsibilities - as the Brigadier points out the job is a mix and he is not purely a mathematics teacher. One of the strongest themes of the story is friendship, with many points where the Doctor and/or his companions take risks for each other, reminding us all of the bonds between them. This makes the addition of Turlough an interesting factor since his motivations for joining the travellers is very different. There is some technobabble in the story but the dialogue manages to make it simple, even resorting to lines such as 'Well... Zap!' to put it in perspective. The result is a highly ambitious script which works well and is one of the strongest of the entire series, representing a major improvement on Peter Grimwade's previous effort, Time-Flight.
The concept of two Brigadiers is one of the story's most notable points, and Nicholas Courtney manages to simultaneously effortlessly recreate his performance from the 1970s as the younger Brigadier, whilst at the same time making the older Brigadier seem more weary and tired. Thanks to some good make-up it is easy to conceive of the two of them being six years apart. Equally strong is Mark Strickson's debut performance where he has to play Turlough, a character with an uncertain background but he manages to make the character memorable and likeable enough whilst at the same time it is still possible to believe that he could kill the Doctor if forced to. The other major roles in the story are Mawdryn, who is sympathetically portrayed by David Collings, and the Black Guardian, who is reprised by Valentine Dyall. Whereas The Armageddon Factor used a negative image on the TARDIS screen to portray the Black Guardian, here he is shown in a black costume but given the requirements of the story and the more limited video effects available at the time it would have been impossible to show him as a negative image throughout. Dyall's headpiece with the bird head on it has become legendary but it isn't actually that noticeable here and looks like a strong symbol of power.
Productionwise Mawdryn Undead has some good location shooting, whilst the interiors of Brendon are done well. The spaceship feels more like a luxury yacht that a travelling vessel but this is entirely in keeping with the story and it has some imaginative sets which are well designed by Stephen Scott. Peter Moffatt's direction throughout the story is strong but the real icing on an already brilliant cake is Paddy Kingsland's wonderful music. Throughout the story it never fails to set a strong tone that is pleasing to the ear and highly addictive. The result at the end is a story that is extremely enjoyable to watch and easily one of the true delights of Doctor Who. 10/10
School Daze by Andrew Wixon 4/6/03
I once had a friend who published his own fanzine - this would've been early 90s, the dying days of the A5 'zine, just before the internet took off. It had all the usual stuff in it - bad fanfic, dubious artwork, etc, etc - and a bit where my friend (hello there, Jamie, if you're reading this) listed his favourite stories and writers. As far as writers went, he listed Robert Holmes about seventh... and Peter Grimwade top. And yes, sho'nuff, his favourite story was Mawdryn Undead, that tautologically-titled continuity buggerer.
We never much talked about DW after I learned this, for the same reason I don't talk about politics with Great Uncle Otto.
Mawdryn Undead is not a favourite of mine, nor even close, for all that it contains some good stuff. The problem is that the vast majority of this stuff is crammed into episode two, where the Doctor and friends meet the Brigadiers. It's clever and well written and rather nostalgic... but the problem is that once it's pulled episode two out of the bag the story has nothing else left to offer.
Because, let's face it, Mawdryn himself barely qualifies as a villain, he's so fey and feeble - 'Obey my will or I will collapse on the floor and moan' isn't much as villainous threats go. And the only other candidate, the Black Guardian, is reduced to appearing as a phantom or in that very early-80s test-card time-tunnel, acting only through the medium of a ginger public-schoolboy (and, of course, no-one else knows he's there). No villain, so no evil plan to foil, so... what's the story going to do to pass the time?
The answer is that it's going to laboriously manoeuver the Doctor into what looks like a no-win situation, in this case sacrificing his regenerative powers to help Mawdryn and his friends and the girls. To do this it indulges in a lot of what is known in our house as 'techno-cobblers' - Mawdryn briefly and conveniently looks human, so the girls will think he's the Doctor! His condition is apparently viral! To say nothing of how the transmat beacon ended up on Earth - think about it, they can't have used the transmat to get it there, and if they have another means of travel why use the transmat at all? - or that the fact that it should take ten regenerations, not eight, to heal the mutants and the girls.
And once the Doctor's in this bind, the story indulges in terrible deus ex machina plotting to get him out of it. The 'shorting out the time differential' concept is fantastically lazy and crass storytelling, conveniently ignoring the various other occasions when the Doctor has met himself. Okay, so I suppose it is neatly plotted too in a way, but I'm sorry, it's like cheating at cards for paper money.
For all its narrative shortcomings the story has a few plus points - the location work is nice (so inevitably the bulk of the second half of the story is set in the hotel - sorry, on the ship). The score is atmospheric in places - but then again it also contains some of the ugliest music I've ever heard, particularly in the stolen car sequence. The climactic explosion certainly impressed my father - I didn't have the heart to tell him it's a reused effects shot from Blake's 7.
The one unquestionably good thing about Mawdryn Undead is Nicholas Courtney's impressively subtle performance(s) as the Brigadier. The rest of it is hugely variable in quality and ultimately rather inconsequential.
Time Passes Slowly by Mike Morris 29/4/04
If it has nothing else going for it (and many would say that it hasn't), Season Twenty has a whole bunch of stories with kick ass names. Arc of Infinity, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead... these are all up there with the all-time great story titles. Of course, that doesn't mean they're any good.
Mawdryn Undead is okay, and therefore significantly above the Season Twenty norm. It's a story that actually gets better with a few viewings, and in spite of a number of problems remains very watchable.
At the heart of this story is what's at the heart of all great stories; an absolutely smashing script. This is one of the most gorgeous plots of the decade, incorporating numerous ideas and a wonderful moral debate at its core. Of course, it also kicks off the Black Guardian trilogy, but hey, you can't have everything.
Now, the Black Guardian is obviously a bit of a lame idea, and always was, largely because no-one really knows what he's for. While he's a sort of all-powerful bloke who rules the universe in The Armageddon Factor, on his return it's rather less explicit who or what he is. Certainly, he's not all-powerful anymore... otherwise he wouldn't need Turlough to act as his agent.
In Mawdryn Undead he's written as the devil, essentially, or perhaps some twisted Guardian Angel who makes deals for his own ends. He's surprisingly frightening, in fact; the scene where Turlough's headmaster turns into him is one of those frightening moments I remember from when I was a kid, and not without reason. It's a disturbing scene, this malevolent ghost essentially haunting Turlough in his bed, aided no end by Strickson playing up his terror for all its worth. And the touch of Turlough looking back and seeing himself lying there... uurgh, it gave me willies that did. That aside, the Guardian is used sparingly enough as a cosmic manipulator who operates on a different plane, and cannot directly affect this one without agreement (much is made of his "bargain" with Turlough). If nothing else, his presence nicely explains the series of coincidences at the story's part.
And the rest of the script is terrific. It's a very episodic story ?the first concerns itself largely with the ship, the second with the question of the two time zones and Mawdryn's emergence, the third reveals Mawdryn's history and the fourth is about the Doctor's self-sacrifice. All these elements are interesting and well-handled, even if there are a few unresolved loose ends (how exactly did all that stuff with the transmat capsule being disguised get set up?).
Still, it's all very clever, and hangs together rather well. The use of the two time zones is fabulous, showing us the conclusion of the story and then giving us its origins. Like Day of the Daleks, this is one of surprisingly few Doctor Who stories that's actually about time-travel, and while it's not at the very heart of the story's basis it's used in pleasingly subtle ways. The capsule being jettisoned six years ago is carelessly mentioned in Part One, but then the appearance of the same capsule ?with occupant ?in Part Two ties into the plot rather beautifully.
In fact, Mawdryn Undead isn't just about time-travel; as that telemovie would claim years later, it's about Time. Not time as the usual abstract concept, but time as in people's lives passing, their clock ticking away, their time in this universe passing by and never being reclaimed. The Brigadier loses years of his life in amnesia; Mawdryn's time runs in a circle, never coming to a conclusion and hence never passing; Turlough agrees to his fate because he feels his life slipping away on Earth; the Doctor offers up his own time to Mawdryn; and the solution comes through one man facing what he used to be, spanning a chasm of six years to touch his own past. It gives the thing an epic feel, a real sense of the clock ticking slowly away, and lends the story a weight that overcomes some of the more obvious difficulties ?such as Part Four, which has rather run out of plot.
Mawdryn Undead has a name for being the point at which Doctor Who began to immerse itself in its past, but watching it today that doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. The links to the past aren't overdone in any way, with the Black Guardian not being overly-offensive in this story, and the Brigadier's appearance is just lovely. Obviously this was initially written for Ian Chesterton, and may well have worked better with him, but there's a strange believability to the Brigadier working as a teacher (I'm not touching the dating of the UNIT stories with a twenty-foot pole though). Courtney is on good form, far better here than he would be in The Five Doctors, even if he does spend much of the last episode wandering about a spaceship. The question of his nervous breakdown is nice, and the Brig's denial of the whole thing is marvellously in-character.
Strickson struggles a little with Turlough ?really, he established himself in the role in Terminus ?whose introduction is otherwise nicely understated. Part of the problem is that he's clearly not a schoolboy, so he's completely unconvincing in the earlier scenes. Once he starts sneaking around the TARDIS he starts to find his feet, and his origins are never bludgeoned home. He's oddly likeable, really. As indeed is Mawdryn, whose regeneration is startling, and whose fate is truly horrific and well-evoked.
So; good plot. Reasonable performances. Well-thought out alien with good motivations. What's the problem then? Well, we should know by now. If the video case says "directed by Peter Moffat" on the back, and doesn't say "State of Decay" on the front, you've got to brace yourself.
The frustrating thing about Moffat is that he isn't without ability, but he seems completely unsuited to Doctor Who's format. State of Decay was relatively simple and stagy, and Moffat did an excellent job. What's more, the man produced some of the decade's most memorable visual moments in the stories he directed; the bat superimposed over Aukon's face, the cliffhanger to State of Decay Part Two, the death of the Three Who Rule, the Raston Warrior Robot, Mawdryn's appearance at Part Two's climax in this story, the sepia-tinted reminiscences of the Brigadier, the beautifully shot scenes in Seville. His location work tends to be consistently excellent.
So why is he out to lunch the rest of the time? His recent appearances in the DVD releases make him seem like a bloke who was just... there. He blithely admits that he didn't understand the plot of The Two Doctors and The Visitation... sorry, what? I mean... what?! You're the director! I repeat; the fucking director! How can you not understand what you're directing? During The Visitation commentary he said that he never liked the incidental music... well then change it! Forgive me for reminding you, Peter, but you were in charge! It's a bit like Margaret Thatcher saying she didn't think much of the poll tax! Aaaaargggghhh!!!!!
Mawdryn Undead actually gives Warriors of the Deep a run for its money in the anaemic direction stakes, and that's saying something. Just look at the Black Guardian's domain, which should have been dark and terrifying, but instead has silly neon design and looks like one of those stupid things they used to show at raves; contrast it with the Kinda scenes in Tegan's head, and weep for what could have been. The music sounds like someone with a harp up their arse farting, and the costumes are so gaudily shit that a sewage farm looks clean in comparison. Why oh why did they clothe Mawdryn and his mates in those stupid rubber skirts? Why, for the love of God, why? Just as well the set designer was vaguely competent, or this would have been a right dog's breakfast.
As it is, so many shots are fumbled that much of the story's tensions are lost. Part of the beauty of the Black Guardian subplot was that the Doctor knew that Turlough was a hostile agent, but had faith in his underlying integrity. So when the Doctor finds Turlough's glass thingumajig in Part One, it should be a very important moment. Instead he just hands it over like he's found Turlough's other sock.
And so much more. The initial shot of Mawdryn lying on the transmat floor drops out of nowhere, rather than there being any build up to what should be a horrific sight. And it's obvious that Mawdryn's face should be unrecognisable, so having him so clearly not be the Doctor was endlessly stupid. Or the conclusion, when we should have got a look of dawning realisation on the Brigadier's face as all his memory loss falls away... but instead he just sticks his hand out for no real reason, in a shot that's over far too quickly. The sheer number of missed opportunities elsewhere is mind-boggling, and I can't even begin to list them; suffice it to say that this script is a mesh of subtle dramas that quietly touches on ideas like fate, coincidence, destiny and nemesis, and it needed brooding, introspective direction. Instead it gets sabotaged by blandness and dullness.
Oh well, what can you do? Moffatt is a man whose proudest achievement is that everyone working on his stories had a jolly nice time. By contrast, everyone seems to have hated Peter Grimwade. Still, I know who's a better director; and if Grimwade had directed as well as scripted this story it would be an all time classic.
As it is, it's a story that works because the script is strong and clever enough to sustain interest, in spite of the appalling direction.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/5/04
Despite being best known for messing up UNIT dating, Mawdryn Undead is an enjoyable tale and a strong opener to the Black Guardian Trilogy.In Mawdryn (excellently portrayed by David Collings) we have a sympathetic foe for the Doctor, who basically just wants to die. This is a strong Peter Davison tale too, as it brings out the Fifth Doctor at his most compassionate, willing to sacrifice his future for Mawdryn. Tegan and Nyssa work well, because they`re together and contrast each other nicely, and similarly the Brigadier (a late replacement for Ian) gets a fair slice of the action.
Whilst age has done Valentine Dyall`s Black Guardian no favours, he is still vocally impressive if less so physically. Mark Strickson makes the greatest impact as Turlough, his nervousness making him particularly untrustworthy, at least in Tegan`s eyes. In short Mawdryn Undead enertains and remains refreshing and enjoyable.
A Review by Brett Walther 19/10/04
Although I've always shared my friend Joe Ford's lack of enthusiasm for Season Twenty, I've been a stalwart defender of the Fifth Doctor. Lately, however, I've found my confidence wavering on this matter. A recent viewing of Resurrection of the Daleks proved Davison's Doctor, my childhood hero, could be a right idiot at times, and Mawdryn Undead further cements my growing apprehension.
Take the opening TARDIS scene, for instance. Tegan enters, understandably still upset about being turned into something red-eyed and horrible in the last adventure, and instead of making an effort to genuinely reassure her, he treats her as if she's an annoyance. There's no sympathy there, rather an exasperated sigh and an expression that suggests he'd be glad to dump her off at the next stop. So much for Davison as the "most human" Doctor of them all...
After meeting Turlough, and even through to Mawdryn Undead's conclusion, the Doctor shows no interest in all at his shady new companion's origins. Doesn't he find it odd that an apparent English schoolboy knows of transmat systems and shows no surprise whatsoever to the events unfolding? Instead, he welcomes Turlough aboard, no questions asked. No wonder Tegan's in such a huff -- she's the only one to show any sign of wariness, and it turns out, she's entirely justified in her suspicions.
This strangely unlikable Doctor doesn't even show up in his own programme until about five minutes in, the first scenes seemingly pulled from another show altogether. We have Mark Strickson and a bizarrely miscast Stephen Garlick as Ibbotson, stealing the Brig's car set to some truly irritating incidentals courtesy of Paddy Kingsland. It's simply embarrassing to watch Garlick -- who must be pushing 30, surely -- pretending to be a schoolboy, speaking almost in falsetto throughout, and who hardly fits the bill of "Hippo" -- the Brigadier's rather cruel and inappropriate label of "disgusting" suggesting that the actor was supposed to have been rather more... rotund.
Where were we? Oh yes. Turlough and Hippo crash the Brig's car, and Turlough has an out-of-body experience of the tackiest kind. There's a disco dance floor backdrop for a supposedly sinister "pact with the Devil", who turns out to be... (No, for once it's not the Master, but seeing as how he popped up in one out of every four Davison adventures, you'd be forgiven for assuming as much)... The Black Guardian.
The uninspired return of the Black Guardian elicits a barrage of "why?"'s, the most important being, why, out of all the possible candidates in time and space, does the Black Guardian enlist the aid of a British schoolboy (albeit an alien exile in disguise as a schoolboy) as the Doctor's assassin? It's just ridiculous. Valentine Dyall isn't done any favours by Peter Grimwade's script, with most of his dialogue consisting of witless "evil personified" cliches. "In the name of all that is evil," and similar garbage... Blechh. It just reinforces what a bland concept the Guardians were -- functional only for the epic quest of the Key to Time, and never something to be resurrected. By the time Part Three rolls around, Turlough's little chats with his bird-headed friend are tiresome to the extreme, and become reminiscent of those horribly repetitive cuts to the Courtroom during The Trial of a Time Lord.
Nevertheless, things improve as the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan explore the apparently deserted spaceship, and when Kingsland's score is more subdued as it is in these scenes, it can be quite effective. The design of the ship's interiors is equally impressive, with the bold gold and red theme creating a sense of opulence that nicely counterpoints the hideousness of Mawdryn and his cronies later on.
We're also treated to what is undoubtedly Nicholas Courtney's best performance ever. It's not my favourite Brig story by any means, but Courtney's acting has never been so polished, and he's never been more convincing as he is here. He's also subjected to a flashback sequence that for once isn't gratuitous -- it actually advances the plot, releasing him from his curious bout of amnesia -- the nature of which is Mawdryn Undead's greatest mystery and most involving plot thread.
What doesn't work quite as well, unfortunately, is that the viewer doesn't doubt for a second that the blackened husk that shows up in the transmat capsule is not the Doctor. Not only does the body not look anything like the Doctor (I know he could've triggered a regeneration, but he's wearing a nappy, for goodness sake!), but these scenes are interspliced with scenes featuring the Doctor, alive and well, and far from barbecued.
It would also have added more interest if Mawdryn had been slightly more sympathetic, thus making the Doctor's moral dilemma even more profound. Instead, Mawdryn has to blackmail the Doctor and use all sorts of manipulations (paving the way for a hideously padded Part Four -- Nyssa and Tegan catching a "viral" form of Mawdryn's mutation? Give me a break!) to get him to agree to sacrifice his regenerations. Further exploration into the implications of the Doctor losing his "Time Lord"-ness would have also increased the drama stakes. Surely there's more to being a Time Lord than the ability to regenerate? I want to know what exactly the Doctor would become if he weren't a Time Lord! There's so much potential here, and I'm glad that future writers of Doctor Who in print have chosen to take this theme and run with it in highly creative directions. Sadly, Grimwade's script doesn't offer the characters the chance to speculate on this matter, and the dramatic impact of the Doctor's potential sacrifice fizzles.
As can be said for so many of the other stories of Season Twenty, there are some lovely ideas at work in Mawdryn Undead. It's just a pity the presentation of them had to be so bland.
A Review by Brian May 3/4/05
Mawdryn Undead is a cleverly scripted, multi-layered tale, which incorporates a new companion, the return of an old one, and the comeback of an old enemy. It's also one of the few televised Doctor Who adventures that scrutinises the intricacies of time travel. Peter Grimwade's script is definitely a brainteaser; there's so much going on, what with the same location split into two time zones. The action goes back and forth between Brendon School and its grounds in 1977 and 1983, and it's often difficult to work out where everything falls into place, what with the constant comings and goings of the TARDIS and the transmat capsule. And the inclusion of the two Brigadiers is simply genius. Even if you don't understand the science - and to its disadvantage the story has more than its fair share of technobabble - you know that something will go wrong should they meet. The way their separate appearances are dramatically emphasised in part three tells you this anyway. The idea of a group of Flying Dutchmen in space is certainly interesting. It reveals more of the Time Lords, especially their punishment of those who try to do them wrong. And the notion that all the antagonist wants is to die, not conquer or destroy, is unique for Doctor Who.
But while the whole thing is fascinating, it's not what you'd call riveting. Or even exciting. The pace is incredibly slow. For the purposes of character development, this is good, and as the first three episodes are intellectually stimulating, the snail's pace is tolerable. But things rapidly go downhill in part four. It's as if the story realises it's slow and attempts to speed things up with a standard final episode runabout, but it sheds its interesting features at the same time.
But going back to the characterisations, there are some very good ones. Mark Strickson makes a strong debut as Turlough. His presence as a new companion was already publicised before airing, so presenting him as an agent of the Black Guardian on a mission to murder the Doctor is rather startling and quite a brilliant idea. David Collings gives an excellent portrayal of Mawdryn, giving the character a true sympathetic edge. Despite the wrongs he has done, the viewer ultimately wishes him and his colleagues the peace they crave in death.
But it's the Brigadier who is the most remarkable. The original idea was for Ian Chesterton to return for the story, which certainly makes sense given the setting. But the substitution of Lethbridge-Stewart works surprisingly well. The idea of him becoming a maths teacher is unlikely, but not totally impossible. But the character development given to him, topped off by Nicholas Courtney's amazing performance, especially as his older 1983 self, is astoundingly good. During the UNIT years he had never been given any real depth (this is not to say, of course, that there weren't any great performances from Courtney - just look at Silurians and Inferno); but we finally see the man beneath. He's never been warmer or more vulnerable, and I haven't seen a greater Brigadier moment than his upset reaction to psychiatric assessment: "There's nothing wrong with me!" and "This one goes on till he drops!"
The rest of the characters are fairly minor, but Angus Mackay is wonderful as the Headmaster, giving us the same aristocratic pompousness that made his Cardinal Borusa in The Deadly Assassin so enjoyable. (The scene where he morphs into the Black Guardian in episode two is surreal and freak-out, to say the least!) But as for the regulars - well, there's not much to say. That's mainly because they don't have anything much to do! And Peter Davison - well, I know he has many critics, and this is one of the stories they'd undoubtedly use to state their cases. He's not dreadful - but he's certainly blase. His actions and reactions lack dramatic gravity, especially the spoken cliffhanger to episode three (an endemic feature of these years). In a nutshell, the Doctor isn't really that interesting a character here.
Which is a pity for, as mentioned, Mawdryn Undead has more than its fair share of thought provoking moments. The constant presence of the Black Guardian is a good subplot. The sequel-inviting nature of the conclusion, in which the Doctor welcomes his prospective murderer aboard his ship, adds a sense of tension to the proceedings - and would certainly get the viewer back for the next story. It's hinted that the Doctor knows that Turlough is trying to kill him - he stares intently at the crystal device the boy uses to converse with the Guardian, as if he recognises it. He gives it back to Turlough with a dismissive "Yours I believe!" And he must surely know the boy isn't from Earth with all that "time differential" jargon he spouts on a number of occasions. So does he knowingly welcome Turlough aboard with this foreknowledge? (I don't frequent online forums, so if this has already been mooted, discussed, debated and argued, then forgive me.)
Productionwise, Mawdryn Undead scrubs up pretty well. The interiors of the transmat capsule and the ship are great; given the nature of the ship, the elegant designs are rather macabre. The rock opera score that accompanies the scenes inside are surprisingly appropriate, although the rest of the incidental music is rather bland and, unfortunately, generically 80s Doctor Who, with the exception of the car driving tune at the beginning, which is rather silly anyway. A few dodgy effects aside (the explosion in the final shot), the story is visually impressive.
It's a pleasant surprise to see that the continuity references - a common feature of the Nathan-Turner/Saward era - are acceptably appropriate here. After Logopolis and Earthshock, viewers no doubt expected a grand flashback sequence at least once this season. The UNIT montage used in episode two is very charming and genuinely nostalgic. And as for the dating of UNIT adventures - this story certainly opened a can of worms, but you can still enjoy it regardless.
Mawdryn Undead is a well-written, clever and intellectual story. The slower pace allows for characters and ideas to come into bloom. The final episode, however, is boring, having run out of ideas, and the regular cast are particularly disappointing. But still there's a lot fun to be had. 7.5/10
"I know how many beans make five" by Jonathan Middleton 22/2/06
Maydryn Undead is an intelligent, well-written, well-acted story form the underrated season 20 that is nowhere as bad as people make it out to be. Directed by the underrated Peter Moffat and the equally underrated (in writing terms at least) Peter Grimwade.
The regular cast are excellent: Peter Davison continues his brilliant performances in a role that is both excellent and touching and the fact that he is willing to sacrifice his remaining regeneration to end Mawdryn and his mutants' lives is great. Oh and Joe why do you think he's bad in this? He's excellent in this and okay his line at the end of part three is a bit wooden; why Davison had this problem is beyond me but apart from that he's excellent. His almost tearful delivery when he has to give up his lives for Nyssa and Tegan also demonstrates his heroic side. In fact the Doctor knows that there's to do anything to save his companions. Another criticism is the Doctor's naivete over Turlough. In fact this is a bluff designed to trap Turlough into revealing what's going on. Tegan is also well acted by Janet Fielding as she is initially mistrustful of Mawdryn and she even says thank you to the Doctor for being willing to risk everything for them and she is not a thoroughly unlikeable cow in this episode. Joe again, Fielding is excellent in this episode. Sarah Sutton doesn't have that much to do but manages to portray Nyssa as a caring, sensitive person who is determined to believe Mawdryn and help him and this foreshadows Terminus.
Grimwade's script is brimming with excellent dialogue and a whole cooking pot full of ideas. The return came at just the right time as any time afterwards it would have been pointless. Mawdryn and his mutants are original along with new companion Turlough.
Mark Strickson manages to thoroughly convince as the arrogant, cruel, cowardly, bullying, lying, weasely, selfish, ruthless Turlough. A truly brilliant idea for a companion not someone who willingly joins the Doctor or is swept up in his affairs, but someone out to kill him purely so he can return to his home planet. His best scene is in part two when the Headmaster turns into the Black Guardian: Strickson manages to convey his terror well without going over the top. His scenes bullying Ibbotson demonstrate his nasty side as he lies to the headmaster and Ibbotson about the accident with the Brigadier's car. Nicholas Courtney is his usual excellent self. He manages to convey two Brigadiers and the scene in part two where he rants at the Doctor for claiming he has amnesia and talking behind his back with Dr. Runciman is great.
David Collings is simply amazing as Mawdryn, conveying someone who is in crippling pain and desperate to die. Now Andrew Wixon Mawdryn is not a villain - okay he does blackmail the Doctor, but out of desparation not of maliciousness - anyway the character is absolutely fantastic and Collings builds on his performance in Robots of Death and the character is brilliant as a twist on the mad scientist plotline as he is truly sorry for his actions and seeks help to die. Valentine Dyall, despite getting with some cliched dialogue and a dead bird (which should have been a black skull cap) on his head, manages to make the Black Guardian truly menacing purely through the power of his voice. Now Graham Williams fans tend to criticise his appearance as pantomimey but in The Armageddon Factor his negative appearance would have cost a lot of money to do throughout the trilogy and this was probably cheaper. His callous disregard for Turlough is quite shocking and his manipulation is also shocking. Angus Mackay manages to make the headmaster very Borusaish and puts in an excellent performance.
Stephan Garlick is very good at playing Ibbotson's comic relief in some very funny moments and portraying his bewilderment at the transmit capsule. The one problem with Garlick is that Ibbotson nickname "Hippo" implies someone who is fat and Garlick is not fat. Sheila Gill impresses as the matron but she isn't given much to do as her character does pretty much nothing. Roger Hammond, Peter Walmsley and Brian Darnley impress in minor roles.
Now there are some things that some fans hold against this which are at best uninteresting and at worst just plain nitpicking. But the UNIT dating is something which needs to be sorted out. This is how it should be dated: The Web of Fear is set shortly after The War Machines so 66, 67 and The Invasion takes place in the spring of 69 and Vaughn's technology was cyber-aided anyway so Spearhead From Space and the rest of season 7 take place in late 69 and early 70 so Terror of the Zygons takes place in 1973. So therefore Sarah's claim to come from 1980 in Pyramids of Mars is incorrect.
Now back to Mawdryn. Peter Moffat has often been criticised for bad direction. Whilst true The Twin Dilemma and The Two Doctors were badly directed (more down to bad scripts), his direction on The Visitation, Five Doctors and Mawdryn are actually quite competent. In fact Mawdryn is his best post-State work. The shot of Turlough creeping behind the TARDIS is brilliant and is the first shot of Mawdryn along with the shots of his mutants "gliding" and the opening shot along with the Black Guardian's P.O.V. are great.
Sheelagh Wells' makeup is excellent. Special mention must go to Mawdryn and his mutants' disfigured features along with the two Brigadiers how they made Nick Courtney look six years younger or older is simply amazing.
Richard Croft's costumes are excellent; the normal costumes are good but Tegan and Nyssa outfits... to quote Quagmire of Family Guy "Oh Yeah". Now Mawdryn's costumes Mike Morris are not gaudy, in fact they are clearly meant to be like the insides of the body.
Paddy Kingsland's music which has often been criticised by some fans like Gareth Roberts who quite frankly has this problem with the eighties which is inexplicable. Apart from the silly music when Turlough steals the car, it's excellent: the moody theme for Maydryn and the best has to be the Brigadier's flashback where the music just reaches its highpoint; the other themes are also excellent, particular the Black Guardian's theme.
Stephen Scott's designs are brilliant; his design for Mawdryn's ship as an art gallery look almost oriental and it is lit excellently. The transmat capsule is also well designed like the ship and the public school and the Brigadier's house are pretty good too, along with the school interiors.
The location work in this story is very good: the leafy English countryside and the Brendan school exteriors look like a public school along with the grounds which are very sunny and look like an English summer's day. Overall: excellent.
A Review by Leslie McMurty 23/7/11
"It's dull and fat and ugly, just like you, Hippo." - Turlough
The Black Guardian trilogy has been neglected in my viewing since until recently I had only ever seen Enlightenment. I did actually rather like that story, partially because of all the costuming, partially out of respect that it was written and directed by women, as we know, a comparative rarity in Doctor Who. None of the stories are particularly highly regarded, and it's easy to see why. I found Mawdryn Undead, despite its unusual title, to be fairly incoherent (though it didn't help I had my boyfriend whispering Black Guardian/Turlough double entendres to me the whole time). Nicholas Courtney is the only saving grace here; the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff might have worked on paper, but it's incredibly confusing, and the deus ex machina ending is terribly convenient.
I admire Paddy Kingsland's music from stories such as Full Circle and Logopolis, but in Mawdryn Undead, he seems to have gone berserk and taken a page out of Malcolm Clarke's book. The result is wince-inducingly painful to listen to and doesn't help the lightweight action on screen at all.
The action opens in an English public school, very much out of Chariots of Fire with straw skimmers for the boys. I've seen enough of the alleged vices of such places in Broome Stages and Human Nature to feel quite uneasy about the relationship between Turlough and his "friend" Hippo (Ibbotson). It's not much of a friendship, is it? I really feel quite sorry for Hippo if the only friend he can get in school is one who deceives and bullies him, gets him in trouble, and has the makings of a sociopath. Too harsh? We got a glimpse of how interesting (and indeed, almost likeable) Turlough can be in Paul Magrs' Ringpullworld, so it's a disappointment to me to find him so self-serving and petty-minded here. To be fair, this is Turlough's introductory story and we know by the end of Enlightenment that he's gone on a story arc that, presumably, makes him a better person, due to the Doctor's influence. Turlough is not one of the most sympathetic of the companions, but he does create an interesting dynamic. (Presumably why I've included him, peripherally, in a couple of my own fan fics!)
In the story, during a moment of concussion, Turlough goes into a very unconvincingly brightly colored background where he is contacted by the Black Guardian (last seen in the Key to Time), who recruits him to kill the Doctor. Of course, Turlough doesn't know who the Doctor is, nor is he entirely sure of this strange encounte; it's full of enough double entendres for anyone to exploit. Turlough, despite appearances, isn't a human: stuck in this public school far away from home for some reason, parents dead, arrangements made through a "strange solicitor in London" (Great Expectations?). He wants so badly to get away he is certainly willing to listen to the Black Guardian (Turlough a precursor to Harry Potter?). The school's Headmaster is somewhat kindly toward the misbehaving pupil (evidently feeling sorry for him), but the Brigadier, who is a teacher at this school (!), thinks "you've got a rotten one there."
On board the TARDIS, Tegan is still worried about the aftermath of Snakedance. The Doctor isn't all that sympathetic to what she's going through. Nyssa has changed into a completely new costume, one that makes her look much more grown up (the fanboys drool). The three of them get caught up in a "warp ellipse" and get on board a beautifully furnished starliner (it made me think of the endless hallways in Beauty by Robin McKinley). Turlough also appears aboard, having been exhorted by the Black Guardian into a transmat that is shaped like an obelisk (cue double entendres - "Waking or sleeping, I will be with you!" "You will obey me in all things!", etc). Part one ends with Turlough about to smash the Doctor's head with a rock (shades of 100,000 BC?).
While it would have been quite amusing if, when startled, Turlough dropped the rock on his own head instead of throwing it off to the side, both the Doctor and Turlough escape injury back on Earth in 1983. A word now, I suppose, should be said about the costumes by Amy Roberts and Richard Croft. "Startling" is certainly the word for them: on one hand, I'm really impressed by the audacity in making something so alien. Mawdryn and his friends eventually shuffle around in big, impractical gowns with rainbow-colored crepe streamers, their brains protruding under plastic domes, in their red and sparkly starliner. It's certainly bold, and such a story demands such excess (well, it was 1983 as well!). Of course, never introduce a gun if you're not going to use it, so when the two Brigadiers eventually meet up, it's no surprise. However, that's only achieved through a lot of getting lost in corridors, the Black Guardian shouting at Turlough through the little crystal and vice versa, and various comings and goings.
Mawdryn introduces himself as one of seven other alien scientists (it's never made clear who or what they are) who tried to adapt Time Lord technology so they could live forever. Of course, it went terribly wrong, as they continue in a state of decay (see what I did there?), never dying. Hence the "undead" of the title, which brings up another point of comparison: the post-Anne-Rice idea of vampires who were rather more cursed with their long "lives" than having gained anything by them, all stemming (at least in the world of Dracula 2000) from Dracula aka Judas, the first vampire as punished for his betrayal of Jesus (you could even stretch it to Satan in Paradise Lost, but let's not go there). I'm not sure there's anything to be gained from making this comparison, and I'm sure it never even occurred to Peter Grimwade, though the idea of eternal life as a punishment rather than a boon does seem like a reoccurring theme in the Fifth Doctor's era (Borusa, of course). I was shocked at how blase Tegan and Nyssa are about letting the Doctor make his sacrifice on their behalf. Never mind, it isn't needed.
There are some interesting ideas in Mawdryn Undead, and the ambition of the plot is exceeded only by the design and costume work. However, it has difficulty coming together and instead of complexity, you end up with tedium. At least Nicholas Courtney rescued it from total boredom.
Let's Do the Time Warp Again by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 10/11/15
It could potentially be argued that Peter Grimwade got progressively better as a writer over the course of the three stories that he penned. Most people would probably say that Mawdryn Undead is the best of the three, though I personally prefer Planet of Fire. Many, many people are also probably of the opinion that after Time-Flight he had rather a lot of making up to do. Certainly, his efforts as a director have been considerably better received than his efforts as a writer; Full Circle, Logopolis, Kinda and Earthshock are generally considered top-drawer material. I suppose it isn't really fair to blame all of the failings of Time-Flight on him just because he wrote it; the production design is questionable, the general colour scheme is far too grey, and Roger Limb's music continues its usual trend of somehow managing to be simultaneously both bland and intrusive. But the fact remains that he wrote it, with all of its ridiculous plotting and clunky dialogue and must therefore take responsibility for it. So with Mawdryn Undead he certainly managed to up his game and objectively this is a well-written and well-produced story. However, I'm going to go against popular opinion and say that my favourite story of the Black Guardian Trilogy is still Terminus, warts and all.
It's actually quite unusual for a Classic Doctor Who story to be about time travel. There are aspects of it which are frequently woven into the plot, but usually it is merely a means of getting from A to B, a method by which our heroes can have their adventures. The Aztecs made the point that history cannot be altered, Inferno showed the dangers of slipping sideways in time and The Claws of Axos demonstrated the lengths that some beings will go to in order to acquire time travel. But it wasn't until Day of the Daleks that the series really got to grips with the concept of temporal movement as a story in itself. Mawdryn Undead also uses that as one of its central ideas, cleverly weaving a tale of two time zones and two aspects of the same character: namely, the Brigadier.
It's also a story looking both backwards and forwards. It pays homage to the UNIT era by having the Brigadier as a central character and also treating us to a flashback, yet this also feels like the series' way of firmly reiterating that that particular era is over. One of the defining characteristics of Doctor Who has always been the emphasis on change, and here we are given a nostalgic glimpse back at the UNIT days while also essentially being told that those days are gone and we can't go back to them. It also introduces another new companion, Turlough, whom we know, with retrospect, is essentially Nyssa's replacement.
So what to make of his first appearance? Well, his endless shades of grey make him an interesting, if weaselly, character. He's entirely motivated by his own interests but not without a sense of morality. Mark Strickson gives quite a nice tortured performance as the selfish bastard struggling with his conscience. He'll become more likeable over time (and the point here is that he isn't actually supposed to be wholly likeable), but it's a decent performance and quite a bit more layered than the average companion introduction. It's also a nice touch how the Brigadier's shrewdness means he isn't fooled by him. Tegan mistrusts him right from the start, and this will essentially form the basis of their relationship for the remainder of their time together in the TARDIS.
There is much to like about Mawdryn Undead and for this I commend it. The scenes on the spaceship are atmospheric: a skilful mix of lighting, direction, music and set design. It's an interesting take of spaceship interior design with an aesthetic more suggestive of an art deco cruise liner than a space vessel. Across the course of the Black Guardian Trilogy, we have a rather varied take on spacecraft; from the terracotta and burgundy of Mawdryn's ship to the bleak, grey functionality of the interior of the Terminus station to the ancient sailing vessels of Enlightenment, it is a broad church indeed. Visually, this is also quite a successful story, with the aliens' exposed brains and the sudden ageing of Nyssa and Tegan being really rather gross. The aliens move with a gliding motion that is highly reminiscent of the Daleks, even if the costumes themselves are more than a little on the garish side. Also worthy of note is that rather touching little scene where Tegan thanks the Doctor, something which is refreshing to see when one considers how much of their relationship was based on bickering.
Of course, it would be impossible to write a review of Mawdryn Undead without mentioning the Black Guardian. Valentine Dyall has a truly superb voice, one that was absolutely designed for portraying villainous characters and this is by far the most successful aspect of the character. He is visually striking, but the bird glued to his head was a mistake and just seems laughable. Although Dyall's reading of the character is note-perfect, the character itself is a little boring. He rants and raves and makes sundry threats to Turlough about what will happen if he doesn't off the Doctor pretty damn sharpish, but beyond that he doesn't really do anything. The concept of the Guardians as representations of the elemental forces of the universe is a fascinating one, but embodiments of pure evil unfortunately tend to be a little on the one-note side. It simply doesn't make sense why he should need Turlough to kill the Doctor. Oh, he gives some vague explanation about not wanting to be seen getting his hands dirty but that doesn't pass muster in my book. If you're a supremely powerful force of the universe then to whom do you answer? Why on earth should you care about being seen to kill the Doctor? Setting up a character as powerful as this and then bringing him down to rather human considerations was a mistake I feel.
I've always loved Paddy Kingland's music for Doctor Who and while I feel that this is one of his weaker scores, it still has some effective moments, the scenes on Mawdryn's ship being the most notable example.
One of the defining tropes of the Davison era was that of the Doctor running around and breathlessly stating that he would explain things later. Here we actually have Nyssa saying that the Doctor will explain later. Maybe she's gotten so used to hearing this from him that she now feels compelled to voice it to others on his behalf? Who can say? Another recurring motif was the ineffectualness of the Doctor, his inability to save the day every time or keep people alive, a theme which resulted in horrendous outcomes in both Earthshock and Warriors of the Deep. Although the results here are decidedly less fatal for all concerned, it still cannot escape my notice that it is the Brigadier's rather timely and serendipitous intervention that saves the day, not the Doctor's.
The Black Guardian Trilogy is only a linked trilogy in the sense that the Black Guardian is egging Turlough on to kill the Doctor. There is little to connect these three stories in the same manner as the E-Space Trilogy or the Return of the Master Trilogy. Mawdryn Undead is a confident and well-made story but I'm still sticking with Terminus...
"Non sequitur" by Thomas Cookson 20/4/18
My first viewing of Mawdryn Undead occurred whilst reading About Time 5's bloodbath in print between Miles and Wood. Representing a microcosm of a long-running fan war between Williams defenders and Davison fans. Mawdryn Undead seemed to epitomise everything Tat Wood highlighted was fundamentally wrong with JNT's period. How it turned the once-accessible show into an unending, joyless nerd-trap.
That the style and tone of directing was so wrong and televisually illiterate as to be repellent. That JNT's humourless backlash against the Adamsian wit and life-affirming comedy of Season 17 had in this case produced one of the most miserable and spirit-crushing Doctor Who experiences.
This story serves as a confirmation of Tat Wood's complaints. Humourless, pretentious and demonstrating how far back the show's fallen since City of Death into insular fannish predictability. Just a drawn-out, po-faced exercise in killing time until it can contrive the two Brigadiers to finally meet and touch.
Nonetheless Mawdryn has its fans who admire its existentialist themes. DWM cited it as the classic series' proto-Blink. The Brigadier's bleak life status being almost prophetic of the Wilderness years, and doubtless inspired Human Nature and other New Adventures in its exercise in painful revisitations of life beyond the show.
Feeling a need to reappraise it, I rewatched Mawdryn years later during an 80's marathon. Perhaps to redeem my opinion of it, seeing if I could at least push myself to canonise the era up to The Five Doctors. Unfortunately, divorced of Tat's comparisons to Williams' era, I was just left with the story's heart itself and found it a far more repugnant story than I'd first thought, that seemed to reflect fandom's worrying attraction to on-screen morbidity.
The talking point of euthanasia has lately become something of a bad penny. The question of dwindling resources and massive influxes of migrants into Europe has seemed to provoke some rather frightening people to come out the woodwork, arguing the case for eugenics and for almost Neanderthal obligations of the old and infirm to end their lives rather than be a burden. Maybe that's the truth of why I despise Saward's era. It too often reminds me of the thinking of sociopathic crazies on the internet.
It's almost fitting Mawdryn centres around the miserable undead, when this has become a show for Planet Mondas' breed of spiritually dead fans who live by factoid persnicketies and a petrifying, pig-headed, rigid, cold arrogance. When these impenetrable soul-sucking bores decide to go to war armed with their little book of facts, to score points, they don't stop.
By all accounts, back in 1980, they didn't stop, until eventually they had the production team's ear and were persuading the makers to make the show their desired way. Even Davison's Doctor became reimagined as a tedious, inept, petty-minded bore, more preoccupied with lecturing doomed humans on the messages of Pertwee stories past than bothering lifting a finger to save them. Sadly, I think why those fans defend JNT's production decisions today is precisely because they're exactly the kind of factoid-obsessed fans who were coldly unregistering to the loss of the show's soul.
Doctor Who began to become in earnest a regressive, backwards-looking, directionless show both obsessed with its own past yet driven to put a far shallower, uglier, pettier face on its past.
Season 19 mostly concerned itself with telling new stories in a more bold, dramatic, hard-hitting way, saving the fan treats of returning old foes for the tail end. Notably, it was being produced during the Five Faces repeat season broadcast. Season 20 was the belatedly post-Five Faces season, featuring the return of Omega and the Brigadier now that The Three Doctors was in recent memory again.
Grimwade was inspired by the Flying Dutchman myth and its eternal, undead crew. But there's no chilling, supernatural atmosphere here. Everything seems so literal-minded and leaden. If this had the mystical, astral look and feel of The Keeper of Traken, maybe there'd be an existential sense of a cosmic lifespan completed. A destiny fulfilled. The Doctor's remaining regenerations coinciding with Mawdryn's number might feel like an ominous dictate of fate rather than a sloppy contrivance.
The Davison cast often described Peter Grimwade, as downright 'punchable' as a director, yet he had a gift for giving scenes real verve, the sharpest creative instincts and shrewd understanding of visual grammar. Yet, frustratingly, his own scripts were directed by lesser talents.
Peter Moffat had his underappreciated talents. He was good at crisis management, had great rapport with Tom and Lalla and valued older writers like Terrance Dicks. Frankly, I think he'd have been a better choice for producer in 1980. But his directing style seemed better suited to episodes of Last of the Summer Wine. Hence why The Five Doctors seems to work best for his directing efforts and why The Two Doctors feels so off-colour in its incorporation of tasteless gore into that style.
Mawdryn Undead feels like what Last of the Summer Wine would be, were it devoid of humor, and solely about the terminal misery of our geriatric years. Mawdryn embracing his end with welcome arms, as Davison decides in his darkest hour to make his sacrifice, should've been cathartic, but the clumsy music spoils it. Everything surrounding just feels too limp, passionless and leaden. The narrative hasn't felt urgent or cathartic, but a string of miserable ugliness. Any sense of narrative construction just doesn't seem there. Right from the outset, we have ludicrous events happening at complete random. The entire irrelevance of Turlough stealing and crashing the Brigadier's car without apparent reason.
For me, the biggest dealbreaker concerns the moronic pantomime mishap whereby Tegan and Nyssa immediately, unquestioningly mistake Mawdryn for a regenerated Doctor. It's insulting to the characters' intelligence. Almost epitomizing the Davison era's fannish preconceptions and po-faced hubris (i.e., the characters will easily believe Mawdryn is the Doctor with a changed face just because that's what the Doctor does). It's done with painful humourless over-earnestness that comes off false, if not outright insensible.
Even the Brigadier seeing the Doctor back and remembering those years brings hardly any warm, redeeming nostalgia. It seems to just let the retrospective Pertwee clips do all the work. It feels lethargic and demoralising. It renders the Doctor more impotent and callous than he ever was before, having seemingly lost all his fighting spirit. I can't imagine any past Doctor being as contemptful of Mawdryn and his people's self-inflicted suffering as Davison is here.
Tat Wood cited how this era's writers had to comply with superficial fannish sensibilities rather than properly tackle issues or anxieties or genuinely perform the kind of self-exorcism that makes great writing (if the writer had too many obstacles to dealing with its central anxiety, then the Doctor's empathy with the issue never materialises).
The story puts Davison in a position where he has two moral choices. Help Mawdryn's people commit suicide or abandon them. Either choice makes him look bad. This story has him do both.
At this point, during my second viewing as part of said 80's marathon, I actually felt myself lose the will to continue watching this series. Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity had been dispiriting experiences, but this was different. Even Logopolis wasn't this depressing.
I wonder how this got a U-rating when this really marks the point Doctor Who ceased being a family show. Usually, the show had enough fantasy elements to counteract the bleaker, more morbid moments and gave kids a reason to persevere and get some elation from the story, whether the monsters and mysterious underground lairs of Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Brain of Morbius or the giant clams in Genesis of the Daleks. Even Logopolis presented the Doctor's metamorphosis as something beautiful even in defeat.
Here, this story's sheer morbidness, concerning Mawdryn's people just wanting desperately to die is all there is at heart. That's at the heart of the story's intrigue, and so there's no other rewards to the story, just bleakness, punishment and defeat. Now, Steven Moffat, who loves this story, would argue that kids love time travel. But I just felt there's nothing for the children here, even though ironically this story's almost a proto-SJA Trickster episode.
Perhaps I'm being hypocritical and parochial. After all, it was the grimness of Genesis of the Daleks that made it so arresting, compelling and cathartic, which first made me a fan. The very first Dalek serial was incredibly bleak stuff about nuclear war and deformity, and I still consider it classic. Hasn't Doctor Who always straddled the line between family entertainment and moments of shock theatre?
Am I being a hypocrite when I dislike the show tackling (or more like endorsing) the equally adult theme of euthanasia? Am I being unfair championing the show for bravely tackling one adult subject, yet decry it even approaching the other? I think the problem is I feel there should still be some degree of hope. Terry Nation's Dalek stories were as much about survival and prevailing ideals as about war, and that's how both complemented the other. But here there's no such towering structure of interweaving conflicting emotions or tones. It's all rather sloppily applied at random and nothing really ties together beyond loose coincidence.
The surrounding sub-plots never affect Mawdryn for better or worse beyond being time-exhausted, where his agonies and indignities are further prolongued. Therefore nothing is cathartically expressed through thematic merging. No lesson is learned, except that being old and terminally ill and just waiting to die really sucks. Which is hardly enlightening. The only pay-off to this long-running disturbing idea that Mawdryn and his people have been living in suffering for centuries is that death finally is their only release.
Worse, Davison stalls their wishes to die only to give into them. He submits to the snap judgement that there's no way of saving them without killing them, and so he just abandons them. He doesn't wrestle with his conscience at all; he just submits in the end under coercion. In short, where was his empathy?
Through that artificial prolonging of runtime, we get no validation of the Doctor's refusal to end their lives and the extra time they suffered because of it. A deferred death is the only happy ending these people can have. In which case, the Doctor is arguably a monster for deferring it. Yes, it's a difficult scenario to overcome, but isn't that the point? That the Doctor should think his way around it?
Clearly someone's decided presenting the Doctor with challenging conundrums wasn't about showing him having to use his intellect to overcome them but about showing him giving up completely. If given four episodes' runtime to think of something, Davison could do or achieve nothing except let these people die with reluctance, it just begs the question what's the point of him anymore?
I began to lose the will or impetus to keep watching. It became easy to dismiss the show as a lost cause now because for the first, and sadly not last time it had turned the Doctor into one. In fact, it's here, rather than Season 21, where the show truly becomes the unyielding, merciless enemy of the very human dignity and honour it used to champion.
The Brigadier's returm is welcome of course. But perhaps using Ian Chesterton would've worked better, were William Russell available. The Chase gave a perfect happy ending for Ian and Barbara that maybe should stand. But given the long absence since, bringing Ian back could've been something truly special.
It's certainly more plausible for Ian to suffer amnesia about his two years with the Doctor than the Brigadier forgetting his entire career with him. Indeed, the steely Brigadier, after all he's endured, seems less plausible becoming so mentally broken. Courtney brings much class and charm, but he deserved a jollier outing than this.
Ultimately Mawdryn Undead felt like a clumsy mess of set-pieces and indulgent morbidity that didn't coalesce into anything other than an ugly, unpleasant chore.