The Black Guardian Trilogy
The Black Guardian Trilogy Part Two

Episodes 4 Nyssa's termination?
Story No# 127
Production Code 6G
Season 20
Dates Feb. 15, 1983 -
Feb. 23, 1983

With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding,
Sarah Sutton, Mark Strickson.
Written by Steven Gallagher. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Mary Ridge. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough become trapped aboard a ship of diseased Lazars, where the only cure may be death.


To Seek the Truth... by Emily Moniz 13/6/97

As a Nyssa fan, one thought came to my mind during this entire episode: "oh, my God." Throughout this entire story, the possibility was there for Nyssa to die or leave the TARDIS crew. Guess what? She left. We'd just gotten rid of Adric, things were starting to get interesting, and then this happens. The Tegan and Turlough trapped in an airshaft bit was a cure for the "one companion too many" syndrome. Not that I am complaining. In Terminus, you actually got a glimpse into how deeply the Doctor cared for Nyssa, and how close Tegan and Nyssa were. Davison acted beautifully, and I find no fault in his performance. Yes, the space raiders were a bit much, and Terminus starting the universe was hard to grasp at times, but this was a send-off that Nyssa deserved. Earthshock and Adric's send off was good, but Terminus made me cry.

What more could you ask for when a companion leaves the crew? I recommend Terminus to watch alone, or with a best friend. You'll be glad you did.

Mixed Goodbyes by Mike Morris 6/12/98

"Pants" is one general view of Terminus. "An excellent example of technobabble-free SF" is another (Hmmm...). As usual, the truth lies somewhere between these two statements; Terminus isn't that bad, but it's not that good either.

It all starts rather well, actually. Turlough is uncomfortably integrated into the TARDIS crew and is suitably dislikeable. The TARDIS sabotage is well handled, the subsequent exploration of the deserted ship is filled with suspense in a way reminiscent of The Ark in Space, and it all culminates in a great cliffhanger.

Sadly, it all goes a bit pear-shaped after this, with the plot of, er, a big dog guarding the secret of the Big Bang, or something, dropping clumsily into the narrative. It's always a bad sign if you don't know what's going on in a relatively simple story.

I always get the feeling watching this story that the Black Guardian subplot was inserted at a rather late date. Imagine it this way: Kari and Olvir aren't included, Tegan wanders around the space station with the Doctor, and it's Turlough who follows Nyssa about. Then maybe we could have avoided Turlough and Tegan wandering around a spaceship for the whole story, and had time for a few plot explanations; what is the Garm? Is he a survivor of the original race that built Terminus, or something else entirely? Why are the Vanir dependent on Hydromel? How does the Control Box work? If the cure for Lazar's disease actually works, why does Terminus have the reputation that it does? Is Terminus a product of this universe that travelled back in time, or did it obliterate a previous universe in the same way that it's going to do now? How does the TARDIS "door" work?

Last criticisms are that the direction's a bit flat, there are some woeful performances (Olvir!!) and the music ranks among the worst in Doctor Who's history.

There are compensations, however. The design is dark and dinghy, there are some good set-pieces, and the regulars all perform well. The concept is well thought out. And, of course, there's Nyssa's farewell scene, which I rank as the best in the show; it's a shame that her character was so under-used during the series.

Terminus. It's okay; the worst thing is that you have the constant, nagging feeling that it could have been so much better.

Supplement, 14/5/04:

The review above is, da da da da drum roll, the first review I ever posted on this website. Erm, you can tell can't you? Anyway, back when I could review stories in less than seventy thousand words, I came to the earth-shattering conclusion that Terminus wasn't more or less than mediocre. At the time I wasn't aware of just how badly regarded it seems to be; nowadays, it's in everyone's bottom ten.

Not without reason either, although I still see it as... well... bleagh. It's, well, obviously crap, but that said I think it's averagely crap. I suppose in its way, this is the story's primary sin. And it's hard to overlook the faults. You know, the opaque script, the bad performances, the dull direction. All that sort of thing.

And yet I can. I don't exactly stick Terminus in the video every second day, but every now and then I'll stick it on and it'll plod by without annoying me too much. I'm not going to claim that it's brilliant or anything, but it's pretty inoffensive. More importantly, in one way it's a genuinely groundbreaking story that deserves respect.

No, honestly!

You see, it's grim. It's relentlessly dark, dirty and depressing - and this, for Doctor Who, was a completely new thing. Yes, there had been stories in nasty places (The Mind of Evil), and featuring cynical characters (Warriors' Gate), but never had they been combined in such a cold, cynical environment. For this, Terminus deserves downright admiration. Twenty years of fairytale storytelling, of motivated villains who get their comeuppance, of marvellous worlds where things can be sorted out in ninety minutes. Sure, that's wonderful, but any attempt to vary the Doctor Who formula with integrity should be noted. The previous season had occasionally flickered into a less "pretty" environment, but Terminus takes things to new heights.

There are diseased subclasses, denied treatment by shame and subjecting themselves to abuse because of their own desperation. There's the Vanir, condemned to a half-life dependent on a drug, owned by a company and dying a lingering death. There's the Garm, controlled by circuitry and used as a fetch-and-carry slave. Kari, trapped by her own cynicism; Olvir, trapped by his own fear. It's a story in which all characters are imprisoned without bars.

And then, just when a moral code or meaning threatens to assert itself, it's whipped away. The Vanir seem to have all the answers initially, but then they're revealed to be no more than baggage handlers. The grand plot with the Lazars, which looks like it's going to end up as the Garm needing to eat their brains or ingest their lifeforce or something, turns out to be nothing more than corporate incompetence. There's a scene that summarises this, when the Doctor beholds the centre of the universe; it's a dull stack of greying gantries. Or even the revelation at the end of Part Three, where the moment of creation is exposed as a bloody computer glitch. It's a world without meaning, a grey uncaring place.

Of course, there's an argument that Doctor Who shouldn't go down this nihilistic route, because it's essentially escapism. I don't buy this, really; it's a sort of the-world's-crap-enough-so-let's-have-all-our-stories-happy logic and it pervades pretty much all of contemporary culture. Everywhere you look there's a story telling you about a world without shit and I find it sickening; ugliness is a rare thing in storytelling, and when it comes along I appreciate the bravery behind it. Doctor Who, of course, tends to fall into the world-without-shit category, and somehow it sneaks under my radar and I love it because of that. Still, I like it having a go at ugly, because ugliness is truth and prettiness is a lie. On television, it's really only achieved this on four occasions, all pretty close together; Terminus, The Caves of Androzani, Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks. Stand up Eric Saward and take a bow for pushing a colder, more realistic worldview; I appreciate it. Of those four stories, I'd rate Terminus third, just ahead of Vengeance on Varos - mainly because it's actually got a decent story behind it.

A shame that Eric or JNT or someone decided to parachute the Black Guardian into it, then. The script has obviously been hacked about, and while what was there might well have been a cracking tale, what makes its way to screen is a bit of a mess.

So; the Black Guardian comes in with no coherent purpose, murdering the arc-plot that Mawdryn Undead had set up reasonably well, and shouting at Turlough to kill the Doctor every now and then. He's lamer than lame. Still, we should be grateful; all that fascinating yelling that he does uses up time that would otherwise have been wasted telling us who the Garm is and where he came from. Or what Terminus is and where it came from. Or who the Vanir are and where they came from. Hmm, I think there's a pattern forming...

My theory is that Kari and Olvir weren't in the original script at all. Kari's cynicism is suspiciously similar to Tegan's down-to-earth wit, and Olvir's continually funking it and his knowledge of Terminus would have sat very well with Turlough, and the story would have made far more sense if split into Doctor/Tegan and Nyssa/Turlough pairings. As it is, Kari and Olvir are standard Saward mercenaries, who seem to have been drafted in to free up Tegan and Turlough for some valuable crawling around ventilation shafts. Now, we're dealing with the guy who wrote Warriors' Gate, and I refuse to believe that he would have written something that crass. The successful elements - the setting, the hydromel-dependent Vanir, the delirious madman wittering of destruction - all feel like Gallagher's writing. The unsuccessful bits don't. I'll bet Gallagher was livid when he saw what made it to screen.

The direction probably pissed him off, certainly. Funny how things escape your attention - Rob Matthews made a throwaway comment a while back about how there were a lot of decent scripts wrecked by bad directors in the Davison era, and I was staggered that I hadn't noticed before. Mary Ridge belongs to the "Ron Jones" school of Who directors; it's not that she's obviously crap or anything, in a Peter Moffatt sort of way - it's just that she's irritatingly competent and that's it. There's some obviously poorly shot bits, like that silly cleaning robot, but other moments (like Part One's cliffhanger) are marvellously crafted. It's just that she doesn't seem to reach the guts of the story in the way that really great Who directors do, she just sort of, um, animates it. It contrasts sharply with Warriors' Gate, where Paul Joyce clearly had a vision about how the script could be achieved. Somehow, the story doesn't come to life.

And that might be something to do with the acting. The sheer quantity of crap performances is astounding. Olvir is woeful, that girl Nyssa meets is incredibly hopeless, and none of the Vanir manage to really communicate the horror of their fate. All the performances are tired and mannered, which coupled with the stilted direction means that the viewer's never really sucked in. Tegan and Turlough are sidelined for the entire story; Sarah Sutton is superb on occasion, but frequently seems whiny; and even Peter Davison doesn't seem to be able to motivate himself to push the material. When they get the lines, the regulars acquit themselves well (Tegan and Turlough's TARDIS scenes are fun, Peter Davison's "I didn't realise it was private" is great, and Nyssa's leaving scene is obviously beautiful). Still, what really makes great performances is the ability to disguise bad lines, or give meaning to bland scripting. The actors in Terminus just don't push the story enough.

I think the design is unfairly criticised; the ship is rightly and pleasingly bland, and the space station itself is marvellous. It's dirty, it's ugly, and as well as feeling like a shithole it feels oddly mythic. The scale of the station is effectively communicated, and the sickly yellow lighting adds to the jaundiced, fatigued feel that the story pushes. In fact, I can't help feeling that Dick Coles was the only person who really knew what the script was all about. The costume designer certainly didn't; all the costumes are dreadful. Nice of Nyssa to flash her knickers, but that's scant(y) compensation.

And the music is just the crappest, most ear splittingly horrible sound imaginable. It's like polystyrene screeching across the fibres of my soul.

So why do I profess to like this story? In summary, it's a decent script that's been hacked about, mediocrely directed, and poorly performed. So it's not exactly brilliant or anything. Still, I can't bring myself to dislike it. It's a story about people who are trapped, and about how their strength of will can find a way. The Lazar cure can be refined, the hydromel synthesised, the Garm can be set free. It means that this story does have something quietly beautiful, buried in amongst all the dross.

I suppose I might be accused of double standards there; after all, The Awakening's got good scenes buried amongst crap as well, and I'm less forgiving of that. Perhaps it's because, though, that the story is all about just that; finding faint moments of beauty in a cold, dead world. The scene when a Vanir pushes a noxious chemical into his weary chest, prolonging his existence further, and mutters "bittersweet taste of life"... his momentary happiness is all the more beautiful because it's transient, *because* it's tinged with bitterness, because it's edged with hatred of himself, his colleagues, his life. And of course, there's Nyssa's leaving scene; holding Tegan as she leaves her friend for a life in a thankless, disgusting world, because she knows she must try and make things better. The sobs and the tears are real expressions of love, defiance, determination, goodness; it happens in a place that seems to have no meaning, and it only makes them mean more. Nyssa cries. Tegan cries. I cry.

So yes, this gets the okay from me. The Black Guardian subplot mucks it up, and the production is decidedly average, but it's got serious concerns and some gut-wrenchingly emotional moments. And there's a decent first episode too. This isn't a winner by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a damn sight better than its reputation suggests.

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 24/6/99

Terminus is one of those Doctor Who tales that has a bad reputation, although it is neither particularly good or bad. Certainly as far as the Black Guardian Trilogy goes, it is the weakest tale. The plot however is decent enough to sustain the viewers interest for at least...two episodes.

The idea of a time travelling spaceship being responsible for the creation of the universe is an ingenious one, as is the take on leprosy, which is carried throughout the story. As with many Doctor Who tales the first episode is the best, being set largely within the TARDIS. This in itself creates a threatening atmosphere; something which is present throughout Terminus. Here lies one of the problems, the atmosphere is so grim (perhaps deliberately so) that boredom quickly sets in.

The regulars don`t fare much better; although the interactions between Tegan and Turlough are a joy to watch, they spend far too long trapped or trying to escape sterilisation. Nyssa gets much of the same; being a captive or taking her kit off. Even The Doctor is made redundant for much of the tale, as so much of the tale focuses on Nyssa. So with nothing really being made of the regulars, you would expect a set of well characterised supporting players. Unfortunately we don`t even get that, Liza Goddard as Kari is forgettable and Olvir doesn`t deserve a mention and the Garm is too ungainly to pose any threat. Nyssa`s exit is well handled and nicely underplayed, but highly unlikely.

If Terminus were condensed into a three part story, it would work well, but the only things worthy of mention are the themes of leprosy and the creation of the universe in the main storyline, the first episode and the sets. In other words Terminus is something to watch on a rainy day.

A Review by Michael Hickerson 24/9/02

For the second time in as many seasons, Doctor Who explores the origins of the universe. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, if the series were able to actually able to maintain a consistent story about how the creation of the universe came about. According to Castrovalva, the universe was created in a huge explosion due to a massive in-rush of hydrogen, thus causing the Big Bang. In Terminus, we find out that this isn't neccessarily the case, but instead a big old space station was stranded there, dumped some waste from a defective reactor core and that caused the Big Bang.

I guess you've got to give Who some credit -- at least in both cases, the Big Bang is involved in the creation of the universe.

Now, after Mawdryn Undead threw the entire UNIT continuity out the window, it might seem a bit strange to call Terminus to task for violating Who's established back story on just how the universe was created. But it's not just this huge bit of continuity that Terminus gets wrong -- there are so many internal issues in the story that the entire story quickly falls apart under it's own weight. One of the biggest is that the cast can never quite remember if the radios are supposed to work -- indeed, at one point the Doctor and the female commander are stunned they haven't heard from Nyssa and Olivir via the comm link when just two scenes earlier, they established the radiation leak made communication using the same links virtually impossible.

With Doctor Who, as with most other shows, it's getting the little things right that counts. And Terminus fails on a lot of counts. For one thing, Nyssa is, by far, the least exposed of the TARDIS crew to the lazars, but yet she is the quickest to come down with the disease and feel its affects most severely. You could make a good case that Tegan or the Doctor should have come down with a case of the disease -- if only because Tegan is pawed by the lazars in episode one. Then, there's the story's attempts at misdirection -- we see so many potential bad guys, only to have them all turn out to be not exactly what we thought. The evil looking guys in the armor turn out not to be so bad -- they're just working to try and stay alive and oh yeah, they've got a cure, it's just not administered well. Then you've got the Garm who is supposed to be in the Who mold of big evil monster, but instead turns out to be a loveable teddy bear of a guy who is just misunderstood. (You can almost hear the "awwwww" track, can't you?)

All of this is a shame since the story starts off so well. The first ten or so minutes as Turlough sabotages the TARDIS are extremely well done. We see some continuation of Tegan's mistrust of Turlough from Mawdryn Undead. We also get a nice little nod to Adric's demise when we see that none of the TARDIS crew have faced the task of cleaning out their young companion's room following his death. The first few moments of Terminus actually had me hoping that the quality of Mawdryn Undead would carry over to this story.

However, once we get on board the ship and head to Terminus, things take a right turn and the script becomes disjointed and fuzzy. One reason is that there are simply too many characters for the story to follow. Not only do you have the TARDIS and her crew, but you have Olivir and his commander, the crew of the station, the lazars and their plight and the Garm. Add all that up and it's a lot of people to keep track of -- so much so that the script begins to quickly lose focus as the groups keep separating themselves into pairs and trios. Indeed, I'd argue that Tegan and Turlough are pretty much useless beyond the first fifteen minutes of the story and until the final five or so minutes when Turlough steals back aboard the TARDIS. Seeing them crawling around duct work might be visually striking under the direction given the show, but it's not very interesting nor does it sustain much suspense in the long-term development of the story. Instead it serves more as a distraction and a hinderance to the other, possibly more interesting plot threads running around out there.

Another flaw is the story feels forced into the mold of the Black Guardian trilogy. At the end of Mawdryn Undead, it appeared the crystal was cracked and the story was over. But here, we find business as usual for Turlough and his evil mentor. No explanation is given -- which seems very at odds with the end of Mawdryn Undead and seeing Turlough feel as though he's free and has escaped. Indeed, for him to fall so easily back into his role as the Black Guardian's stooge makes little sense -- especially based on what he saw of the Doctor in Mawdryn.

All that said, there are some things to recommend about Terminus. Visually, it's quite well done. And you've got to give the director a good deal of credit for taking a rather static set and working within it. Even the Tegan and Turlough crawling around inside the ducts is rather visually striking -- both from a lighting standpoint and from the texture of the film used. Whether or not this is intentional or not, I'm not sure, but I like it.

Also, the story earns extra credit points from me for "Gratitious Female Companion Nudity." OK, so Nyssa isn't technically naked, but she does drop her skirt (for no apparently good reason), there are some scenes where the set is obviously quite chilly and you've got some interesting camera angles that peer down Nyssa's neckline. As a hormonally inbalanced teenager when I first saw this story, those were some rather striking and memorable moments (well, at least until Peri in Planet of Fire, but that's a whole other issue and one that I'm working very hard on in therapy, thank you. :-) ) and those moments remained with me well beyond the actual plot of Terminus itself.

So, overall, Terminus is a story that is trying hard, but lacks a great deal of focus. It starts well but it doesn't necessarily end well. Overall, it's a weak link after a great start to the Black Guardian trilogy.

Terminally boring by Tim Roll-Pickering 14/4/03

It is hard to know where to begin with Terminus. The entire story gives the impression that there are some very clever ideas behind it but they all appear to have been mangled to the point that the story as a whole is an incoherent mess. The subplot of Tegan and Turlough wandering around the spaceship trying to get back to the TARDIS is so clearly padding designed to handle the two characters that it could easily have been ignored without any significant effect upon the story at all. What's left is a clear attempt at a metaphor for the-then contemporary concerns about the treatment of AIDS victims and the exploitation of drug addicts, muddled up with an attempt at 'real science-fiction' and ultimately degenerating into a runaround about a spaceship. Worse still the failure to develop any of the Lazars at all makes it much harder for the viewer to sympathise with their plight in any way. Steve Gallagher's script is a bold attempt to take Doctor Who once more into the realm of hardened science-fiction occupied by films such as Alien but even using some of the sets from that film fails to achieve this. What we're left with is ultimately a forgettable story.

Nyssa is written out in a more imaginative way than many companions have departed. Rather than the clich? of falling in love or returning home instead she, like Romana in Gallagher's earlier Warrior's Gate, leaves to help others in peril. It is a strong leaving scene as she resists Tegan's attempts to get her to stay behind, but ultimately it works. Otherwise the story is exceptionally mundane with few memorable characters and most of the cast have consequently failed to infuse any life into them. The only memorable character at all is the Garm but unfortunately he is realised onscreen as being a little too 'cute' to be effective. With a dirtier head and some better lighting effects this character could have conveyed a stronger sense of terror but as it is the character fails to enliven things.

Productionwise Terminus shows all the hallmarks of being a cheap and rushed production that not even the usually good direction skills of Mary Ridge can rescue. In many places the sets look incomplete with scaffolding and other supports showing and it is impossible to accept this as a competent design intention. The lighting is fortunately subdued in some places, but not enough to cover up the discrepancies, whilst the Vanir costumes are highly impractical, clanking about all over the place. Even the music fails to set a good tone for the story and the result is a tale that is terminally boring to watch. Definitely one to avoid. 1/10

Contemplating suicide... by Joe Ford 8/7/03

Remember that line from The Completely Useless Encyclopaedia... "we will campaign for the legalisation of euthanasia"... well I finally realise where Lyons and that other fellow were coming from, they must have just finished Terminus. Was there ever a story in the entire canon (we're talking TV, books, audio, comic....) that began so promisingly and plummeted into the realms of eternal mediocrity? I cannot think of one (and for your information I am also including An Unearthly Child, The Sea Devils, Arc of Infinity and Timelash!).

Sarah Sutton acts like a right wimp, hell, you're leaving luvvy now is the time to show everyone how great you are not long for your last scene. She's even doing bloody experiments in her spare time for God sakes! How dull can one person be? I looovvveee Nyssa with a real passion but she is another casualty of the lamentable season twenty, completely forgotten in most stories and written bizarrely out of character when they can be bothered. Snakedance was the rare exception but then that is the only story this year that can still hold its head high. Nyssa's pathetic wailings when the room starts to melt still makes me wanna cry and her snivelling cries of "Olvir!" as that piece of junk drags her away with the other lepers is almost unwatchable. "What is this terrible place...?", "Are you Doctors?"...I'm afraid the evidence is incontrovertible, Nyssa has become as useless as Tegan and must go. Fortunately her final scene she suddenly snaps back into character (that wonderful formidable woman who took on the android in The Visitation and did the Charleston with such gusto in Black Orchid) and stand firm in her wish to stay and help. It's so Nyssa, a passionate, intelligent decision and her tears shed are entirely believable. Shame its one of the only scenes in the story to actually have emotional resonance.

Episode one could almost be seen in isolation. There are problems, sure, real big ones in fact but watching that first episode is like having your back rubbed whilst pan pipes whisper to you in the background... sheer heaven, especially when you compare it to the last three quarters. The exploration of the eerie ship with its goose-pimple-inducing sound effects is very effective. There is a brilliant shot as Nyssa explores a corridor and suddenly this sound effect blasts out and the camera pans in on her frightened face, very effective. The arrival of Terminus is also good (although the effect is fairly poor) which leads up to a halfway memorable cliff-hanger (for the Davison era this is what is a called "a miracle"). All those horrible, moaning creatures suddenly emerging and the truth of the ship finally revealed... okay Olvir over does his "We're on a leper ship! We're all going to diiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" but then Doctor Who has always been known for its melodramatic cliff-hangers so we'll let them have that one! I would point out that one of the creepiest sequences in years appears in this first episode and that is the chilling moment Tegan is dragged up against the door by all those hands. Watched in black and white (the shadowy atmosphere demands it) it really is scary.

The only real troubles with episode one are the regulars, a grossly padded bitch fight between Tegan and Turlough, Davison screaming and shouting but not actually DOING anything, Nyssa as I say just flapping about... not exactly a charismatic bunch are they? The atmosphere is grim, it could do with livening up but it certainly wont be with this bunch of dullards. The appearance of those fabulous eighties space helmets (I mean they're huuuuge, aren't they?) to hold in those fabulous eighties hairdo's (we're talking Bonnie Tyler gone punk!) just derails any plausibility the proceedings might have held. And the Doctor shoving that chair in the door, just in time, well he could do with a job on rival show The A-Team where similar unbelievable feats happen week in, week out. So quite a few issues there but still a halfway watchable episode.

Episodes two-four however are pants. If the cliff-hangers weren't bad enough (not only do we have a archetypal Davison-crippled cliff-hanger but we're also treated to the hysterical bravado of "Now I'm going to deal with you!" or some-such tripe, I can't remember the exact words but Davison's pained response says it all) we also have to suffer faceless one dimensional characters, cheap and almost bare sets, clunking costumes, a crawl to a halt plot, not one line of decent dialogue, a crap monster, some headache inducing music and a really, really bad ending (Mr Doggie and the joystick indeed!).

Davison hated season twenty... well that's good because I hate Davison in season twenty. I love you fellow fans, really I do and your reviews keep me constantly entertained (see my Top Ten reviewers to watch out for) but in all honesty can you really recommend this guy as a serious contender as best Doctor? He does sod all throughout this story except walk about with Goddard in the dark and trip over nameless actors. His explanation about the origins of the universe are flat and uninteresting and he shares no chemistry with his fellow regulars. I can recall no memorable Doctor-barbs or quips (part and parcel of the character, right?) and for all of you who say his standing on the sidelines and watching of events is compelling I say no, it's boring as shit. Somebody tell me what I'm missing (you in the back, Mr Cornell, you said he was the best character actor ever to play the part, you explain...) because I fear the evidence in this story only backs up my claims.

And as for Tegan and Turlough... oh why should I bother, my endless rantings have become rhetoric by now, come back to me when I have something positive to say (which would only be Frontios). Needless to say their wandering about in the floor is gratuitous, painful padding that I always fast forward when I force myself to endure this story.

The Garm is a fabulous piece of tack only the eighties could have offered up (even Williams would have turned his nose up at this awful design!). The supposedly vital link he provides the story is entirely diminished by his ridiculous appearance. The Doctor attempts to co-erce it co-operate are laughable in the extreme and the apparently touching ending where it looks up at the camera, proud because it has done something noble is Web Planet bad. How Sarah Sutton stood there and screamed at this pot bellied pooch is beyond me (what an actress!).

Erm, excuse me, the origin of the universe has already been sorted out thank you very much and in this very era too! Eric Saward has an extremely short memory doesn't he? Any-hoo this blatant attempt to beef up the drama is sabotaged by the uninterested reactions from Davison and Goddard (geez who the hell suggested she take part in this?). And the aversion of total catastrophe is so bloody easy it hardly seems worth the three episode build up.

I'm fairly certain that Stephen Gallagher wrote a fairly decent script before Saward got his grubby paws on it. The re-writes are appalling, he gives none of characters a personality or chance to shine, he adds no menace to the situation and his trademark glossy set-pieces are absent.

But the real sinner in this sorry fiasco is Mary Ridge for her diabolical direction that barely scrapes underwhelming. The odd striking shot does not pass the book in my eyes and the never ending scenes of characters chatting away with the camera fixed on them in one position grates by episode two so it's a damn shame this is four episodes long. No attempts are made to give Terminus a menacing look, its all over head lights and bare sets... and the total exposure of the Garm is unforgivable. And those shots under the grating with psycho-bitch and the brat from hell are on a location camera... you couldn't even get that right? No excitement, no stylistic touches (favoured by the Douglas Camfields and Graeme Harpers of this world) and no tension. Just pure, never ending boredom.

To mis-quote Colin Baker "Silver Nemesis, Timelash... they're all in the nursery compared to this!" ...this is the sort of things non fans envision when they think of Doctor Who. This is the reason they have the right to take the piss. Like it or not at least 20% the show is this bad, I love Doctor Who with a passion bordering on insanity but when I watch sheer bollocks like Terminus I start to ask myself why??????

Oh right because Revelation, The Two Doctors, Caves of Androzani are on the next shelf down, that's why! My recommendation is you skip this one for good and watch those instead.

A Review by Michael Lennard 15/10/04

I always tend to feel that part of the reason why this story often gets dismissive treatment is because it's a lot less cosy in nature than many fans feel happy with. From the start we have a fairly disfunctional TARDIS crew, with Turlough proving unsurprisingly disruptive and deceitful. His relationship with Tegan - she clearly doesn't trust him in the slightest, and he, recognising this, can't help getting a kick out of provoking her - is an unusually sophisticated one for Dr Who companions. The fact that they end up spending most of the story cooped up together may be a result of the script having to accommodate them at a late stage - I don't know - but it does mean that we have two characters, highly antagonistic to each other, being placed in a position where they are forced to rely on and support each other. Turlough's selfishness is still fairly clear, as he makes several efforts to find the TARDIS door for himself, and it becomes obvious that he has no compunction about flying off on his own in the ship and leaving everyone else there in the lurch, if only he had the technical know-how. It reminds me a little of Avon in the early series of Blake's 7 - a regular character whose loyalties are deeply suspect to say the least and who displays every sign of working to his own agenda.

Whilst the inclusion of the Black Guardian is open to criticism in the sense of it being messy in narrative terms, the fact that he is in it so little means that concentrating on him is not a very strong ground on which to criticize the story. Terminus is not in any meaningful sense about the Black Guardian. He is not the main adversary at all. He is simply Turlough's private nightmare and tormentor, bridging the gap between the first and last stories in this companion's introductory trilogy. It continues the psychological horror Turlough has been facing since Mawdryn Undead - locked into a contract he doesn't feel able to fulfil and unable to break away, to the extent that he is now being physically attacked and made to suffer pain for it. Mark Strickson's furtive body language and sarcastic delivery of his lines (I particularly like "I haven't found him yet!") are both to his credit. He and Janet Fielding also get a rather nice understated little scene, where, obviously musing on his own dilemma, he asks her if she could ever kill someone. The keenness with which he forces the prospect on her ("But cold-bloodedly...") helps to indicate how much doubt and guilt he is feeling privately about what is required of him.

Nyssa is forced into another passive role throughout much of the story. It's a piteous and pathetic spectacle ultimately, whether being dragged away by the machine or reduced to the sackcloth-clad bit of human baggage that the Vanir are so uninterested in. Apart from one brief moment of defiance, when she manages to temporarily overpower Valgard, the desolation and hopelessness of her situation is there for all to see. I think, as much as anything else, the pictorial composition of those shots where we see the ragged Lazars milling forlornly about the overcrowded quarters the Vanir have assigned them, is outstanding. There is a very strong sense of dirt, disease and abandonment here, with the human degradation involved all too obvious. Even the make up on the female Lazar Nyssa talks to is strikingly jaundiced.

Olvir and Kari are not so effective though. Their uniforms have a slightly juvenile design, although this does at least mark them out in the squalor of both the ship and Terminus itself. More seriously both seem a little too fey and genteel to really qualify as Intergalactic raiders. It would appear that they aren't very good at it and are easily deceived, hence the ease with which their chief deserts them (although this strand of plot development gets some extra development later on when Valgard reminisces about being trained and then abandoned in the same way by the same person). Kari's attempts at "commandeering" the TARDIS don't get very far and she more or less ends up as a surrogate companion, even to the extent of nearly getting throttled by the (apparent) baddie. She gets to shoot at Valgard and shout "FREEZE!" but otherwise is mainly a foil for Davison in the third and fourth episodes.

And Davison? I've seen others accuse him of dullness, lacking gravitas and the like. I don't agree in the slightest with that, and certainly not for this story. His Doctor seems to me to be relishing the chance to explore the Forbidden Zone and discuss the background to the place with Kari. On encountering Bor, he is able to show both sympathy and helpfulness, as well as gently elicit information from him. There's his affection and relief at finding Nyssa safe (in both the first and last episodes), his sadness at their final parting at the end, his would-be disarming "So sorry, didn't know it was private" on first meeting Olvir and Kari... No, I have no issues or problems with Davison in this one at all, I think it's a well-judged naturalistic and likeable acting performance.

An aspect of his Doctor which I also like comes out in his "You're the expert" to Nyssa over the Hydromel at the end. This is no I-know-it-all-you-leave-it-to-me-dear Doctor, but one who is quite happy to recognize areas of expertise in supposed inferiors. It's a refreshing and commendable lack of arrogance.

The Vanir themselves aren't in that much better a position than the Lazars - and they know it. Dying a slow death by the very nature of their work, I get the feeling that Valgard is seeking to displace Eirak as leader, not so much because he thinks the position is really worth having but mainly out of sheer testosterone and competitiveness. He clearly despises Eirak and is probably more keen to triumph over him than anything else. Sigurd is a fairly minor part ultimately, a slightly more sympathetic Vanir than the others. The little scene where he gets to snaffle a bit of illicit Hydromel does highlight how dependant they are on it, and how little else there is in their lives. Bor is probably the most likeable of them - we hardly see him in a healthy state, and his rambling and delirious persona doesn't necessarily tell us much about what his normal self would be like, although his stubborn "It's still climbing!" when investigating the Zone suggests a compulsive obsessiveness.

The actual nature of the Big Bang subplot is neither terribly convincing nor satisfying, and is probably the major weakness for me. The lead-up is quite intriguing, and the acting surrounding the crisis is fine, but I find the science behind it questionable at least. The Garm is not the best designed alien I've ever seen (good voice though), although I appreciate the imagery (I think he's meant to represent Cerberus), just as the Vanir are supposed to have been inspired by Norse mythology.

Still, there aren't really many things I particularly dislike about this one, and such problems as I do have are fairly minor quibbles for the most part. I think it is an interesting and unusual attempt at a certain kind of dystopian science fiction which deserves a lot more credit than it usually gets.

The point where the Williams era became a masterpiece by Steve Cassidy 28/4/05

As you get older you realise there are a number of things you should never do at two o'clock in the morning..

The first, of course, is grab a kebab. There is something about a drunken night on the town which makes a desiccated piece of meat turning slowly on a spit look delicious. Lord knows what this meat is from? Condensed Bandril anyone? The second piece of advice is never sit next to someone who looks green (and has a South African accent) on the nightbus. If you get on at Tottenham Court Road you can almost guarantee that his stomach will spill onto yours by the time you reach Lancaster Gate. But lastly of all. never, I repeat never buy things off ebay at two in the morning.

Granted you are still seething from being gazumped by someone taking that copy of Hand of Fear a few hours earlier. But you must never give in to temptation. Avoid that computer console as you stagger off to bed. I succumbed, I ventured into the bidding halls of this esteemed website.

And I ended up owning Terminus...

Now let that be a lesson for you. I claim now that I was under the influence of alcohol. Through a haze I noticed a video going for ?2.99. What a bargain! says I, and before I knew it my finger had entered a bid of ?3.99. Feeling pleased with myself I staggered off to bed. That'll teach 'em says I - and I never remember doing it. The next thing I know a brown paper packet arrives through my letterbox. Oh damn, I won...

So what's it like? Does it live up to its rubbish reputation? Why did you buy it? No sympathy, you knew it was rubbish - but still you bid. But, strange boy that I am... I enjoy tosh. Not tosh that takes itself seriously - not Happiness Patrol tosh, not Delta Tosh - but so bad it's good tosh. How can I describe it? Nimon tosh... Warriors of the Deep tosh. Something where there is something entertaining amongst of the manky costumes and wobbly scenery. I was never prepared for boring tosh..

OK, let's not start this review negatively. Let's start with some good stuff. The first ten minutes are an enjoyable bitchfest between Vizlor Turlough and the biggest moaner in Brisbane. It's actually a very good scene - the dialogue isn't bad (he's certainly got the measure of her) but the actors are massively underdirected. There should have been more omph to this scene. It doesn't bode well for the rest of this adventure. And that's the crux of the failure of Terminus - the direction seems to have disappeared. With a couple of exceptions, the actors sleepwalk through their lines. There are only a couple of tense sequences throughout the whole 99 minutes and they seem to appear more by accident then design.

It's not a bad concept for a story - a lonely space outpost where lepers are sent out of society's way to die. And even the enormous ship named Terminus has a secret - its fuel spillage caused the big bang and the creation of the universe. And guess what? It's all going to happen again. A Graham Harper or Peter Grimwade could have done something with this. The Lazars could be truly creepy and the camera could have used the dilapidated filthy shadows of Terminus to good effect. It truly could have been a scary environment with the decayed god-like Vanir and even the Garm could have worked if he had been kept in the shadows. I kept thinking where did they get that costume? The only conclusion I came too was that one of the Disney characters was mugged outside the Magic Kingdom. Someone in Florida is missing a padded suit. Still sneering at the Graham Williams era now are we Mr Nathan-Turner?

And the whole adventure had his dabs all over it. The flat dialogue, the squeezed-out tense scenes, the flat direction, the gaudy costumes, the inclusion of a TV guest star. Yes, folks - there she is! The one and only Liza Goddard!. I will admit she was a "name" back in the early eighties. Sharing the screen with Lionel Blair in "Give us a Clue". One can imagine Ms Goddard ringing up her agent back in 1983 wanting a big meaty dramatic role "well... there's Doctor Who..." Olvir and Kari are appalling. Olvir could have been an interesting role - granted there are a couple of good scenes. His shouting of "It's a leper ship! We're all going to die!" could have been a fantastic cliffhanger. But in the hands of Mary Ridge it barely manages a whimper.

The same goes for the entire four episodes. We are subjected to endless climbing through air-vents and superstructure in this adventure. Terrance Dicks once made a joke about a fan doing a thesis on "air vents, corridors and tunnels in Dr Who". Well,he'd get a first in this adventure. And we are subjected to the Tegan and Turlough show. Three companions, two pirates and a shipful of lepers was far too much for the writer to juggle so something must suffer. The axe falls on Mark Strickson and Janet Fielding as it is Sarah Sutton's last adventure and we must give her something memorable to do. The premise of Turlough and Tegan is a good one - she doesn't like him (she doesn't like anyone!) and is highly suspicious and he realises this, doesn't care, and sees how much mileage he can get out of winding her up before his time on the TARDIS is up. The writer/director could have wonderful fun with this but instead we get nothing. Even the "Could you kill in cold blood?" discussion comes across as forced and boring as directed by Mary Ridge.

And Nyssa? Well, it is her last adventure. And she gets to go out as an angel. She discovers that the radiation actually does work and Terminus can become the hospital ship it was meant to be all along. This is one of the few areas where this adventure is successful - the redemption of Terminus by Nyssa and Valgard. The writer Steve Gallagher gives hope for the future and it is an excellent way for Nyssa to leave the show. Sarah Sutton acquits herself well in her last adventure and is asked to do some appalling stuff (ie scream in front of the Garm) but she leaves with dignity and poise. It certainly is one of the better companion leaving moments. Peter Davison also does well with the garbage he is given to spout. He puts his all into it as usual - but somehow just can't save it. His efforts to save the universe, yet again, are given all he's got. But when he announces "If we don't stop this! It will be the end of the unvierse!" or such... I literally didn't care.

And that is the problem with Terminus. It is not that engaging - you can almost imagine the legion of viewers switch over (to "Give Us A Clue?") back in 1983. This was the problem with the Davison era. The memories were still fresh of the madcap goggled one and he needed stunning stories like Earthshock and Snakedance to carry him through. By season 20 we were getting soft Sci-Fi like this. It should be terrifying and I bet in script form via Steve Gallagher it was. But somehow between script and transmission it became a soft-lighting pantomine. All hard edges were ironed out. It became the mess that all Who sceptics like to point at and laugh. Terminus could have worked well in the Hinchcliffe and Letts era. But under the multi-coloured bearded beancounter it failed and became deserving of its reputation..

And me? Am I suffering hangover symptoms from procuring this adventure?

I sure am! This adventure is guaranteed to make you feel bad in the morning...

There is no return. This is Terminus! by Terrence Keenan 24/5/08

What a slog this was.

Terminus is boring, middling and a waste of time. Something went very, very wrong between Eric Saward's rewrites, Mary Ridge's direction and John Nathan-Turner's casting decisions. This is a story with the potential to be epic, dark, terrifying and melodramatic in ways that would make it very special. Instead, it tries to be serious science fiction, and ends up a horrible mess.

Lawrence Miles makes the claim that Terminus should have been played as if Brian Blessed was every character, in his critique in About Time 5. At the very least, it would make the story a more entertaining train wreck than it is. However, you'd also have to eliminate all the stupid ongoing soap-opera concernsgoing on - Turlough and the Black Guardian; Nyssa's departure; disease of the week shenanigans - and focus on what Steven Gallagher intended this story to be.

Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson get the shaft, and end up spending the whole story bitching at each other. Sarah Sutton turns in her worst performance ever - although Nyssa as written in the script is even more useless than normal. Peter Davison is stuck with Liza Goddard as a line feed and looks bored out of his skull. You know things are not looking up when Davison can't engage with the material.

For me, the direction is the real killer. If you gave this story to a Douglas Camfield, a Graeme Harper or a Fiona Cumming, the visuals would probably cover up a lot of flaws. Unfortunately, Ridge seems hell-bent on every shot looking as static and lifeless as possible. The Garm is exposed in its initial shot and destroys any potential for the character. The action bits are slow and dull beyond belief. The cast should be yelling and moving, not declaiming as if in a lecture hall and standing stiff as posts.

Oh, by the way, Roger Limb should have been shot for this score. Thanks, Nathan-Turner. Thanks a pant load! This was meant for old Dudley Simpson to go apeshit with a faux Wagner score. It would have been glorious. Aaaauuuugggghhhh!!!!!

The only positive thing I can say about Terminus is the costume of the Vanir, which look cool, and those stylized skulls on the liner, which are creepy.

Terminus is Who at it's worst: Boring. it's a waste of potential and of your time. Watch The Horns of Nimon instead. You'll feel better afterwards.

The Plague Pit at the Centre of the Universe by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 28/6/10

I think it's fair to say that fandom holds Time-Flight and Terminus to be the two stinkers of the Peter Davison era. While this accusation may be somewhat justified in the case of Time-Flight (but only just), it certainly isn't in the case of Terminus. I think the central premise of the story is great. An ancient, gigantic, time-travel capable space station at the very centre of the universe, inhabited by a group of gruff men in skeletal armour, a giant dog and the decaying corpse of the original pilot. Throw in some extra stuff about lepers and the Big Bang and you've got an interesting and mysterious story. It's certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and it'll probably never be regarded favourably by fandom but that doesn't alter the fact that it's actually a rather enjoyable tale. For some reason, it's gotten a spectacularly bad reputation as one of the worst of the Davison stories and I can't understand why. Yes, it has its faults but it's not that bad. There surely can't be people out there who think it's as bad as Arc of Infinity or Warriors of the Deep? Even Time-Flight, which admittedly is pretty bad, isn't as awful as either of those two. And even if Time-Flight is the nadir of the Davison era, I doubt if it's anywhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest.

Episode 1 sets the macabre tone for the rest of the story. The unease and mistrust between Tegan and Turlough is apparent right from the start. Turlough is constantly harassed by the Black Guardian which does nothing for the Guardian's image; he comes across as an incompetent, ranting madman. Anyway, things soon get interesting thanks to Turlough's act of sabotage. The early scenes aboard the liner are creepy with strange unearthly sounds echoing through the corridors. The hands emerging from the door and grabbing Tegan is one of those moments that is genuinely unpleasant. The skull designs are great and add to the sense of morbidity. Many stories of the Davison era are over-lit but thankfully many of the scenes in Terminus have subdued lighting. Even so, I think the scenes on the liner could have been a bit darker; it would have made it scarier. Kari and Olvir look like glam-rock stars. Those bubble helmets are frankly ludicrous but they're both likeable enough.

The enhanced CGI effects on the DVD are something special. You can truly establish the sheer size of Terminus, especially when the liner is seen approaching the station. The shots of it against the sun are really quite beautiful. Other CGI effects include blaster beams and a vast shaft dropping through the bowels of the station. The regulars are all on top form, although it isn't much of a story for Tegan and Turlough. They spend virtually the entirety of the story crawling through the liner's air ducts. It doesn't harm the story at all but it is hard to get away from the fact that they are being sidelined as they aren't really necessary to the plot; at least they aren't once Turlough has sabotaged the TARDIS and got them to the liner. Nyssa's leaving scene is fairly subtle and underplayed, entirely in keeping with her character. Not sure what she was playing at with the whole skirt removal thing but there you go. That robot isn't too hot either.

The Vanir are an interesting bunch. Steve Gallagher lifted them from Norse mythology along with the Garm, the mythical beast which guards the gates to the underworld. Valgard is the most interesting of the bunch and he comes across as something of a flawed hero. Well maybe not a flawed hero as such but he's certainly likeable even if you can't exactly pinpoint why. Bor is instantly charming, Eirak is a bastard and Sigurd is a drip. Their armour looks great, the skeletal appearance being yet another contribution to this story's grim outlook. The morbidity of Terminus is one of its most appealing factors to me. There's a constant sense that nowhere is safe. The liner is full of lepers, then it's invaded by that silly robot, then it fills with gas. Everyone then spends the rest of the time hoofing it round Terminus trying to stay out of the way of the Vanir and the Garm while simultaneously doing their best to avoid Lazar's Disease and radiation poisoning and that's before the entire universe nearly blows up. And at the centre of all this? A desiccated, ancient corpse in the station's control room. Yet another nice touch!

Okay, now the bad stuff. The music is dreary but then what do you expect from Roger Limb? His first score, for The Keeper of Traken, is his best by a country mile. His others are uniformly awful with Arc of Infinity being the worst. Terminus, Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity all have the same problem which is that Limb fills up every scene with dreary, bland, tuneless music. The result is that it becomes intrusive. The redeeming feature is that it's nice to hear both Nyssa's theme from The Keeper of Traken and Adric's theme from Full Circle.

The Garm is rather more cuddly than menacing and that's even before we find out that he's friendly. He would have probably have been much more effective if he'd been designed as Steve Gallagher originally intended. The fights are a bit wooden, some of the dialogue is clunky and Olvir not noticing that the Garm has just walked off with Nyssa when he's still in the room is a bit idiotic.

But all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable story. Whatever anyone says, it's nowhere near the worst of the Davison era.

A Review by Brian May 14/11/10

Terminus tries hard to be different but falls down in a number of areas. In its favour, the ideas are fascinating. It's a mix of hard sci-fi and social commentary; given Steve Gallagher is the writer, you'd think the former would be the dominant aspect, what with the time paradox and oncoming end of the universe, but it isn't: the scenario of Terminus and the Lazars is far greater. It's not as skilfully done as we'd get in a Robert Holmes script, but nevertheless a very disturbing backdrop is painted in just a few lines of dialogue. A leprosy plague is widespread, but these wretches aren't displaced refugees; Kari mentions the ship comes from a rich sector, while Olvir says Lazar's disease "isn't something you admit to". What springs to mind is the wealthy and powerful shuffling their afflicted relatives out of sight, as much to avoid embarrassment or scandal as getting them cured. Also worrying is the prevalence of slavery, what with the ease in which Valgard, a veteran soldier, is sold to Terminus Inc. and the fact that forced servitude is needed to run the place.

One thing about Doctor Who at this time was that you didn't have to have an alien invasion or rampaging monster every story. Sometimes you don't even need a villain! As with several other stories, big business is the real enemy here, but the company remains faceless: we don't meet any of its representatives. The Garm is a token monster, but not a malicious one, while the minimal presence of the Black Guardian means there's still a traditional baddie, but his appearances aren't intrusive and make good use of the Turlough storyline. Aside from this, the closest you get to an antagonist is Eirak, but he's nothing more than a petty jobsworth, as much a slave as his subordinates. In fact, all the characters are convincingly painted, and they're almost all well acted.

By almost, I mean the exception of Dominic Guard as Olvir, who's terrible. He overacts to an embarrassing degree, particularly his shrill "We're all going to diiiiiiieeee!" that ruins an effective cliffhanger. Guard is excellent in the 1975 Peter Weir film, Picnic at Hanging Rock; I don't know why he's so bad here. The other guest actors hold their own, although Liza Goddard's "Freeeeeeze" leaves much to be desired, but in all fairness even Michael Wisher or Philip Madoc would struggle with such a crap line. The regulars are all quite good; true, Peter Davison is a bit muted, but his Doctor isn't written with much to do, a facet of Eric Saward's script editorship overall, but predominant in season 20. (Joe, I suspect that's why Davison hated the year, but as an actor he does his damndest to play against such underwriting. Even in Terminus!) The two best performances come from Peter Benson, wonderful as the endearing oddball Bor, and Mark Strickson, who keeps up his impressive start as Turlough, capturing well the boy's growing terror as he realises he's made a pact with the proverbial devil.

The recording was a troubled one, including the cancellation and remounting of studio sessions, and the ever-present threat of industrial action. But even with these obstacles, the finished product is never terrible. Of course, the hairstyles and music are indelibly 80s Who, but that's unavoidable. The sets are passable, the worst being the rather simplistic transporter bridge; the design of Terminus itself is quite good, although the infrastructure should have been more dingy, the lighting turned down. But the direction is very flat: there are a few effective shock moments, such as the skull appearing in front of Nyssa and the first sighting of a Vanir in full armour, but for the most part the images are dull. The Garm is very unconvincing, too cute and cuddly; the writer's original idea of it remaining permanently in shadow, just a pair of red eyes visible, would have been much better. And, most importantly, the story is badly paced. Despite the grave implications, both big and small, the minute-by-minute unfolding is very slow. It's telling that the Tegan/Turlough moments, which normally should be a padded subplot, are in fact some of the best scenes, while separating the Doctor and Kari from Nyssa and Olvir is a poor plot contrivance. "We must travel in two parties", Nyssa says. Why? Oh, no reason at all, except to make sure she's paired off with the unstable Olvir, who'll then abandon her!

That said, I must backtrack and comment on the excellent first episode. Yes, it's slow, like the remainder, but this suits the build-up. I'm quite fond of the opening TARDIS scenes; it's nice to see the empty console room just before Turlough enters. The Doctor doesn't appear until the seven or eight minute mark; we don't where he was, but I'm just glad to know he doesn't hang around the controls all the time! The attempted sabotage of the ship and its link-up with the transporter are far more interesting than it simply materialising on board, and the aforementioned skull appearance is one of the very few times the Davison years would dabble in horror. The episode's climax, although spoiled by Guard's shrieking, remains one of the more unpleasant images from Doctor Who, far more terrifying than any monster emergences.

But unfortunately the rest of Terminus does itself no favours by the snail's pace and tendency for long talking scenes, the final episode being the worst example. The danger is over halfway through, the rest taken up with a mild confrontation and character negotiations. Worthy, yes, but dramatically dull. Nyssa gets a nice, understated send-off however, and finishing on a cliffhanger is a good touch. But, as a whole, the story doesn't completely succeed. 5.5/10

A Review by Carl Rowlands 9/3/13

Whilst I prefer Peter Davison's acting and his portrayal of the Doctor to that of Colin Baker, it's possible to conclude from the quality of Terminus that the series would have plotted its decline, even if he had remained in the role for another year or two.

This is irredeemably bad, not amusingly bad. It's a po-faced, pompous, gurningly awful experience for the overwhelming majority of its duration. In addition to the leaden direction, the programme is visibly dehabilitated by cynicism. Think Sarah Sutton, being led away in her lingerie, by a 'robot' which is somewhat similar to an overhead projector, moving at the speed of a three-legged cat, with an upright arm dangling a handcuff. I think this sums up the cocktail of naffness and exploitation which sits at the dark heart of Terminus. The lazars are depicted for much of the story in a sensational and salacious manner. Rarely has Doctor Who as a programme showed such a callous portrayal of illness, running apparently in contrast to the Fifth Doctor's humanism and Nyssa's experiences.

Of course, one of the most frustrating aspects of this, and some other bad 80s Who, is that the initial story actually involved a very convincing, strong plot, which the production team were unable and perhaps unwilling to translate into a decent television programme. Arguably, this story should really have been all about Nyssa, a noblewoman of Trakken, being treated like cattle, being subjected to a medical regime based on co-ercion and a lack of human dignity - and then finding her feet at the end as an advocate for those disabled by sickness.

However, with the best will in the world, Nyssa is as frustratingly wooden and passionless for the overwhelming majority of this story, as she was for much of her time in the programme. At least she doesn't just stand around so much. Personally, I liked her in her underwear, but the casual, soft-porn sexism which runs like a thread in the delivery of this story is quite disgraceful and I can't be surprised that senior BBC management started asking questions about the programme soon afterwards. She has a terrible time here: feverish, falling over the place, being carried like a sack of street salt, being strapped to a giant pole, being dosed with radiation... Through it all, her facial expression barely registers a flicker except for the very final, very emotional parting scene. And with this scene, all of a sudden, we see that she could act, but as an actress she just wasn't being directed or mentored. As most of us learn, there are some workplaces where you don't want to start out.

Peter Davison does what he can, but I am surprised that people here think that another actor as Doctor could have rescued this one. Turlough - when not being bellowed at by his belligerent camp commandant, the Black Guardian - does very well in this episode, despite being consigned with a snippy Tegan to the inezvitable corridors and ventilation shafts which represent purgatory in this era of Doctor Who - later to be brilliantly caricatured in The Happiness Patrol as 'Waiting Areas.'

Whilst the story's original concept wasn't bad at all, there appears to be a general pattern in this era, that the retreads and rehashing of former glories (boarding of mysterious ghostly spaceships, Dalek invasions of Earth, getting haplessly embroiled in historical battles) looked increasingly tired, whilst relief was often to be found in stories which broke new-ish ground (Kinda, Enlightenment, possibly some others too). Add to this a sense of listless boredom that pervades life on a lot of these fictional worlds in the 1980s, the inability to demand and encourage decent performances from all of the cast, combined with obvious scraping of the barrel in the effects and design departments, and it's not hard to see how a proper stinker might emerge every now and then. Of the stories that were failed retreads, successful originals or flawed attempts at the new, Terminus falls into the former category, despite a plot that hints at greater ambition.

"ObamaCare is failing. Make Terminus Great Again." by Jason A. Miller 30/12/17

There's no getting around the simple fact that Terminus is that unfortunate combination of dull and irritating.

I watched Part Two of this story, and Part Two only, on November 23rd, as part of my anniversary tradition of watching five random Doctor Who episodes. I hadn't watched it since the DVD release came out nearly ten years ago.

It's easy to see why the urge to watch this story again (and again! and again!) simply hadn't grabbed me by the lapels of my fawn coat or by the sprig of celery affixed to those lapels. Watching this story in isolation, at random, without Part One or even any surrounding bits of Season 20 to wash it down, I was immediately struck by two things that make the story so painful:

  1. The incidental music, by Roger Limb (of the three recurring Davison-era musicians, Limb is usually ranked miles behind Peter Howell, and light-years beneath Paddy Kingsland) is best described as "dreary synth-whine", and there's lots of it. I realize Murray Gold has his detractors, but put a symphonic score over this, and it might be easier to sit through. The music is a constant drain on the attention and concentration; it makes the story actively unpleasant.
  2. Peter Davison is so detached from this story that you can clearly hear him mentally composing his resignation telegram to John Nathan-Turner, while every other character is puzzling out the plot.


    Davison's facial expression for most of the story is set in cast lead. As Dominic Guard is over-acting through the Part One cliffhanger reprise ("We're all going to DIEEE!"), Davison assumes only a mildly concerned facial expression. Now picture any of his four immediate predecessors doing "cliffhanger acting" and selling the (contrived, over-cooked) cliffhanger to Terminus Part One with an appropriately OTT facial expression. Baker, Pertwee, Troughton and William Hartnell's lapels, wouldn't have made the cliffhanger good, but they would have made it more interesting.

    This not a knock on Davison by any means. He was my first Doctor, and he's still "my" Doctor (to quote David Tennant in Time Crash). It's just that he's clearly outgrowing the show in a story this dreary. Patrick Troughton famously ran into Davison in the BBC Television Centre parking lot and told him to quit the show after three seasons. This is the middle of Davison's second season and any still photo of his face taken from Terminus will capture the precise moment where he decided to take Troughton's advice.

    The only moment in Part Two where Davison shows a pulse is when he jumps down a set of metal stairs; that's the only positive actor's choice that he gets to make in the story. Even when he's puzzling out the mystery of why Terminus should be "at the exact center of the Universe", he doesn't get twinkly-eyed like Patrick Troughton or bug-eyed at the camera like Tom Baker; he just stares off-center with his mouth agape, and thus the moment sails past without being a game-changer.

    At one point in the Part Two, Davison plods through a dialogue scene with his arms folded. Bad body language, bro. If his cricket sweater had flashed words to match his mood (like the old 1980s US children's cartoon show "Shirt Tails"), the word for that scene would certainly be "BORED".

But the episode is not a total loss. In fact, it's a remarkably effective bit of political lobbying, buried under the bad music and bad acting. There's Lazar's Disease, which Nyssa contracts halfway through the episode. We learn that ill patients are collected, for a huge price per passenger, and shuttled off, with no medical care en route, to Terminus, where the Garm (we're not going to talk about the Garm in this review, and you can thank me later) provides crude radiation treatment and sends the survivors off to who-knows-where in an unmanned return shuttle. The "health" workers on Terminus, the Vanir (ironically named for Norse fertility gods), treat the Lazar victims with extreme detachment. Each Vanir is clothed in Giger-esque bone-armor -- fitting for a story taped in a set cobbled together from the remains of the Nostromo from the first "Alien" picture. Each Vanir is kept alive by sparsely-doled-out servings of medication and are told by middle management (there's actually a middle manager in this story) that they have to provide their level of "care" with the minimum possible financial support from the big bosses. Dominic Guard's character, who looks like a dropout from an '80s hair metal band, complains about the Terminus Corporation caring more about their profit margin than about providing effective medical care.

As I'm writing this from the United States in 2017, does that remind you of any other for-profit health-care system that you know?

This is actually terrific stuff. If the true hallmark of great drama is timelessness -- if the themes and points can still speak to a fresh audience generations later -- then Terminus is truly a great story.

Well, parts of it.

"Seven Gates of Development Hell" by Thomas Cookson 22/11/18

It sometimes feels like there's two versions of Terminus.

One's a potentially compelling story with unflinching sincere faithfulness to Gallagher's uncompromising vision and Classic Who's moral ethos. The other's a downright rotten, spiritless, boring viewing experience, occasionally interrupted by something moronic or disastrous. It rather defines the gulf between plot and story.

For instance, Back To The Future's story encompasses Hill Valley's 30-year history and the McFly family. The plot focuses tightly on only the important segments of a week each end of that span.

Terminus' story is incredible. One of the show's most hellishly bleak, vivid nightmare visions ever realised. The cold lonely outpost in the unsympathetic wilderness of space, where cursed, damned pariahs are abandoned to die. But it lacks a solid plot to structure that expansive story into its condensed dramatic highlights, decisive moments and satisfying resolution. Instead, it's translated into a downright sloppy plot of poor momentum, leaden characters and the loosest, clumsiest sequence of events. This shouldn't be a forgettable story, but its plot framework disintegrates rapidly, before mercifully doing likewise within viewers' minds.

Something went horribly wrong in gestation. The words 'development hell' come to mind.

Mark Kermode described horror movies as masochistic experiences of imagining yourself in inescapable danger and terror scenarios (like Susan fleeing through Skaro's nightmarish petrified forest, terrified, alone, defenceless), and emerging feeling slightly more alive, braver and seeing the world anew.

Nyssa's journey through Terminus's seven gates of hell, amongst the grim plight of the damned and defeated, emerging with renewed appreciation of life and personal discovery that helping these people is what she wants now, should almost be compulsory viewing for our materialistic, spoilt younger generation.

The obvious comparison is The Magdalene Sisters. A deeply upsetting true story of innocent young Irish girls punished abominably by the Catholic church. Demonised, judged by their community as unclean and deserving of censure and isolation in a man-made hell on Earth. Just one accusatory finger and all sympathy or acknowledgement of their humanity vanished. It took years before I summoned the courage to watch it, but I'm glad I ultimately did. It's an eternal reminder society's worst, outdated lunacies can have resurgences that overrule all sanity.

Initially, this institution of damnation promises to be a chrysalis within which these women, outside the frivolous zeitgeist, might gain self-discovery. Instead, this place's true evil becomes increasingly clear. A mockery of morality that only breeds bitter vindictiveness, eating the life-spirit. This place of 'purity' simply a rotten sewer for its enforcers' worst nature. That's all this hellish place inspires. The longer the girls bite their tongues, submitting their wills to the nun's repressive cruelties, the more we fear they'll never recover their spark of life. That the worst thing concerning this life of misery and injustice will happen. They'll get used to it.

It's possible a similar point's being made about the overwhelming paralysis characterizing Terminus's callous bystanders. It makes horrible sense. People resigned to their fate. The spirit-crushing unreachable authority ruling their lives, making dissent or rebellion an exhaustively pointless expenditure. Like Boys from the Blackstuff's Chrissie said about life on the dole "'Don't get mad, get even'? I can't even get mad most days."

There's a grim irony how the dislocated, hopeless Lazars with their surrendered spirits aren't even granted the status of immigrants. Unlike the baggage-handler scum, they're useless to any workforce.

It's something I feel critics of Star Wars: Rogue One missed. They wanted larger-than-life heroes and action-based cause-and-effect storytelling. Instead, it showed the emotional effects of living under a far-reaching galactic empire. Their tyranny often in the mind. The paranoia, disorganized chaos, moments of paralysis. Perhaps this made the film 'mechanical', but for me that worked. The driving force became the mechanistic empire. The resistance sporadic, furtive, insular. But as events progressed, the spirit of their fight grew stronger and genuinely exhilarating. It's a dark but hopeful film.

So what makes viewers stick with such a story enough to find it rewarding rather than simply punishing?

Well, in The Magdalene Sisters, it's little things. Minor victories and retributions fought for. Moments of contact. Screams of emotional catharsis. And ultimately the final escape. One that satisfies because of all they've had to overcome and learn about their enemy's weaknesses. Where an inner strength takes robust form. Where they could take no more and simply refused to.

However, The Magdelene Sisters was an angry protest against a misogynistic institution's patronising view of young women as weak, submissive blank slates that are easily sullied. Terminus unfortunately rather perpetuates that regressive view, both on page and in production. The dainty robot that handcuffs Nyssa doesn't look tough or robust, but the scene requires Nyssa to act too weak to resist it.

The end result isn't entertaining. It's thoroughly miserable viewing. Dark stories can be entertaining, because they reach deeper, harder, possessing an affirming rightness about what they're attacking. This neither reaches deep nor adequately attacks anything. It's just a parade of misery and idiocy. Doctor Who's done grim, miserable storytelling before, but never so indulgently or bereft of happiness.

At 11, I was beguiled by Genesis's ending. Despite its horrific events and deaths, Tom and Sarah remain their jolly selves, grinning as the Time Ring transports them away. This being a dangerous life they're used to. They've experienced history at its most horrific but gained an appreciation for what's lived on. They didn't just suffer through Genesis's events, they brought a heroic, decisive spirit with them that got them through. Genesis, despite its plot holes (Sarah's miraculous distronic toxaemia recovery), remains compelling, strange, thrilling and intriguing enough to take its faults in our stride. Like it's being propelled by plot conveniences for a good, rewarding reason.

Terminus utterly lacks Genesis's compelling drama and momentum. Perhaps I wanted Who to remain innocent fun, and not breach a particular misery threshold that this and Mawdryn Undead crossed. But the prospect of rewatching Terminus just fills me with immediate reluctant dread at the dispiriting experience.

Even Enlightenment's slick fantasy coming suddenly after this gritty sordidness feels too contrived and inadequate at washing away Terminus's unpleasantly morbid, depressive aftertaste. Even The Five Doctors barely restores enough fun to proceedings.

Whilst only Stephen Gallagher could've imagined Terminus, a better production team could've done something special and compelling with it to give it righteous fury. Perhaps if its ideas were given breathing room unfettered by JNT's restrictions against anything exceeding four parts or evoking Season 17's eccentric humour. Were Turlough's mission cut, we'd lose Turlough and Tegan's ventilation shaft subplot, which only complicated this story's unfocused, demoralising mess. Perhaps Terminus needed jollier bedfellows alongside it, to make its unremitting bleakness more vital, rather than just another dispiriting wallowing in misery.

Maybe Davison's era once looked as fresh as it now looks stale. But that's hard to believe rewatching this. Maybe after Season 19's excitement, the show could afford to chug along rudderlessly purely on fan anticipation of another Earthshock. JNT's early period heralded a return to form that held together because fandom consciously wanted it to. The show can survive on that to a point, though perhaps would be fonder remembered if it hadn't.

In some ways, Terminus could be the perfect setting for concluding the show, like how Red Dwarf 6's cliffhanger was nearly the perfect bleak finish to their hopeless travels. The crew only discovering honour and courage in their futile final moments.

Perhaps because it wasn't the end, it becomes harder justifying Terminus's nihilism. Strangely, Terminus's horrific bleakness doesn't feel like the source of drama and conflict but simply a constant of this environment's miserable equilibrium. Like it's the setting for a worn-out soap, not a dystopian drama. It doesn't have moments of dramatic punch that make the excessively miserable endurance worth it or feel it has point.

Terminus is low to absent on literal death but exhibits overwhelming levels of spiritual death in frames per minute. The heroes having succumbed to ritualized ineffectual behaviour, contrived and designed toward facilitating grimmer outcomes.

Mark Kermode argued that until a film's properly edited into something coherent and direct, it's just raw footage, unfit for showing or appreciation. Sadly, Terminus resembles flat raw footage that hasn't been given proper flow or punctuation, making for a lifeless, depressing chore of a viewing.

Notably when Fear in the 80's' retrospective reshowed Threads' fantastically edited nuclear holocaust sequence, they ruined it by intersplicing its carnage with tiresomely droning, inane remarks by smug, philistine media wankers. A vulgar butchery of masterpiece editing.

But you can only make great editing from good material. I'm unsure what could've been done with Terminus. Were there missed opportunities by the director to go for its guts and give it zest and life, or was Terminus inherently always just dead air?

Harper or Grimwade might've made something toothy out of the few moments of fight and decision. Nailing those moments that could've given Terminus punch and spirit. A sharp, cathartic punctuation that's satisfyingly assertive. Instead, we get no euphoric release. Just the reset button pressed by fluke and the whole endurance seemingly for nothing.

Maybe Saward was right about JNT's tendency to favour pat, pantomime endings. There's something too slight and insipid about Terminus' resolution that leaves a rotten aftertaste.

The breaking of the Garm's control (made a big deal of, out the blue), I guess is meant to symbolically restore everyone's free will. There's the sense it's about the end of a dark age and beginning of enlightenment, forcing even the rotten to change and see the world anew. But it's neutering any blame or felt anger. It leaves me cold. Nothing feels fought for or vindicated. Only the victims feel conquered.

The Magdalene Sisters worked because every moment was believable, and our intimacy with the character's thoughts and actions was never broken. Terminus breaks that rule far too often.

This feels utterly untrue to the characters. Even I can't believe Davison's shocking negligence of Nyssa throughout. Likewise, Earthshock demonstrated Nyssa's made of tougher stuff than to submit to being a helpless frail damsel cipher, treated like cattle, and never developing any inner strength or turnaround moment of bravery. There's no anger. Horns of Nimon had more passion.

We're not watching admirably tough pragmatic humans who keep going no matter what. The Davison companions, like the makers, seemingly have no clue what they're doing beyond miserable apathetic petulance. There remains vested interest in showing Davison's Doctor as incapable, through some illiterate fallacy that the formerly 'too successful' hero now needed to be rendered insensible.

Terminus needed the opposite of this. It needed hopeful, dynamic heroes determined to spontaneously turn the tide. It made sense when Warriors' Gate invoked the shocking idea of Tom's Doctor after seven years' proactive empirical decisive heroism, finally stepping back and passively letting events happen.

Davison's only halfway through his short run, yet this story's tripping him up before he's had a chance to develop a proactive heroic character. It's no cathartic sucker punch, it's just asserting a depressing status quo. It's not cleverly turning the show's decisive empiricism on its head. Merely contemptfully disdaining it, in the belief fans just wanted fan-service.

JNT's obsessive anti-Williams backlash led to character regression and heartless procrastination. Facilitating weak stories that the 'real' Doctor could've resolved instantly. It became a development-hell show. Consequently, character development went to hell too.

Ironically, Davison's theorizing the universe's unlikely creation happened because conditions were exactly right, inversely describes Terminus' production. Only all the materials and conditions were wrong, and the results were disastrous.