The Fourth Doctor, after leaving Sarah Jane on Earth to deal with Margaret Thatcher’s government, is summoned back home by a spooky vision of the assassination of the President of the Time Lords.
This story is apparently based upon the movie The Manchurian Candidate in part. Have you seen it? Of course not. Nobody has. But in every review and article about The Deadly Assassin, it is mentioned. Even the writer of this adventure, Robert Holmes, had never seen it. I’ve seen it but I am the very definition of ‘nobody’. Anyhow, I probably won’t mention it again.
The Deadly Assassin is notable for being set wholly on Gallifrey. It is also notable for the return of the Master (Boo! Hiss!) who is now a withered old corpse with ping pong ball eyes.
This is the Master’s big comeback tour but he and the Doctor don’t meet until the last moments of the final episode. Does this make the story more dramatic? No, I think not. Maybe the production team were mirroring the story which first featured the Master but that does not seem likely either. A curious decision.
This version of the Master is one of the best. You can forget your suave and bearded Masters with their urbanity and cigars, you can forget your female Master with her fetish for Mary Poppins. The skeletal Master is probably the best one. Who doesn’t love a coffin-dodging reanimated corpse? Besides undertakers that is…
This Master is clearly meant to horrify with his blackened Gollum-like body and ragged robes but I think the production team missed out on a trick by not clothing him in a style similar to the original Master, Roger Delgado. That, for me, would be more horrifying. It would have given the crispy Master more pathos if we could have seen him lingering on to what he once was. Instead the production team have him running about like the Cryptkeeper after drinking half a dozen cans of Red Bull.
Assisting the Master is Chancellor Goth, a Time Lord who has his sights literally set upon the presidency of Gallifrey. Goth is all for having the Doctor executed for assassinating the President. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Other than this, Goth is vanilla and bland. But he does have some good scenes when he is fighting the Doctor in the Matrix.
The Matrix? Oh, that is a repository for Time Lord minds when they kick the bucket. Nothing at all like the film The Matrix. Pity really. A bit of bullet-time would have greatly improved The Deadly Assassin‘s episodes set in the Matrix.
The Matrix scenes (the majority of episodes 2 and 3 with a pinch of 4) are surprisingly Earthly. Nothing alien or Time Lordy. Samurai, pink trains, planes etc.You would have thought that a monster might have been popped into the mix but no. You could argue that these scenes padded the adventure out to four episodes but, if so, it is entertaining padding. I would ask why Goth feels the need to be masked. Could he not change his appearance using some Matrix wizardry? But I liked his goggles and the cloth mask around his face, so I will just ignore that.
This is also the story which set the regeneration limit at twelve. Previously it was said that the Time Lords were more or less immortal. From this moment on, not any more. For the anti-Steven Moffateers nowadays who complain about him writing what he likes and changing canon at a whim, I hope you guys will now start writing nasty things about Robert Holmes on social media. Oh, what is that? Silence from the peanut gallery? A lack of fans complaining on how Holmes overturned fifteen plus years of canon? Isn’t it odd (not odd at all) how they criticise Moffat for doing what other showrunners have done? In case you are wondering, I have an axe to grind with fans who think Moffat is the antichrist. Me, I just think he is no worse (or better) than any of the other people who have run the show.
It is hardly a surprise when, after not being able to stop the assassination, the Doctor gets arrested for snuffing the President despite his protests about grassy knolls and magic bullets. As mentioned before, Chancellor Goth wants him executed but the Doctor, after drawing some pretty pictures, puts his name in the hat for the presidency. Now it is a two horse race (Goth being the other nag).
Once freed from execution until after the election, the Doctor convinces two fellow Time Lords (Castellan Spandrell and Coordinator Engin who look like refugees from The Last of the Summer Wine) to help him.
One of the scenes which made me laugh was when the Doctor is in the Panopticon with Spandrell. The scene is perfectly normal and not played for laughs but whose idea was it to stick the chalk outline of the ex-President on the floor? It precisely matches his shape, robes and all. I laughed so much at this that I had to rewatch the episode. Besides the fact that chalk outlines would disturb the crime scene, would they really do so on Gallifrey? in real life, nobody makes an outline of the body for the reason I just gave. This is why the police employ forensics to photograph the bodies. I am chuckling at the thought of the President’s outline even as I write.
Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor is…well, he is Tom Baker. Need I say more? Companionless, he works very well by himself. It would have been nice to see him continue alone for a few more stories but alas it wasn’t to be.
Borusa, as played by Angus MacKay, reminded me of Mark Gatiss. Gatiss as Mycroft in Sherlock that is. Most uncanny.
If you love Doctor Who (why else would you be reading this if you didn’t?) and crime drama, this is for you. Entertaining and finely paced. Plus, did I mention that it has a corpse with ping pong eyes running about?
And if you don’t like it, maybe you should go and watch The Manchurian Candidate instead…