Monday, 5 March 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Mawdryn Undead

The Brigadier. Awesomeness.
Doctor Who - Season 20, Story Three - Mawdryn Undead

Mawdryn Undead holds a special place in my heart. When I was much younger, I'd run downstairs at dawn and watch the omnibus of Classic Who on UKGold. Mawdryn Undead is the first complete story that I remember. Fittingly enough, it's actually a very dark story, as well as one that has to juggle a lot of elements and doesn't always suceed. However, its quality does live up to my memories of it and it's a thoroughly enjoyable- and intelligent - watch.
     One day, John Nathan Turner gave editor Eric Saward a set of intructions for a story to introduce the character of Turlough, an alien masquerading as a public schoolboy. Saward decided to combine this plot with a script he received from writer Peter Grimwade as a consolance for his previous story, Time-Flight. In order to provide something interesting, the team decided that Turlough would be influenced by the entity known as The Black Guardian, who was last seen in Tom Baker's "Key To Time" season. Also, because of the Anniversary Season, JNT also insisted that an old companion be brought back.
     The story initially follows Turlough as he meets The Black Guardian, who offers him the chance to return home in return for his service in killing The Doctor. The school is also home to The Brigadier, who has retired from UNIT and now works as a mathemathics teacher. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan end up on a strange ship on a fixed orbit, passing Earth for six years at a time. The ship has a dimensionally transendental pod attatched to it that just happens to be near Turlough's school.
Spaghetti-headed Mawdryn
     Turlough pops up to the ship, and runs into The Doctor, who heads back down with him to disable a signal preventing the TARDIS' movement. Before he tries to kill The Doctor with a rock, the transmitter explodes and due to some spatial timey-wimey event, the Tardis is sent six years back in time to 1977, where a younger Brigadier helps Nyssa and Tegan out. The Doctor follows the action in 1977 via the 1983 Brigadier's memories - Nyssa and Tegan find a regnerating mutant called Mawdryn, who they believe is a deformed regeneration of The Doctor. Mawdryn returns them to the orbiting ship, and using the Pod, The Doctor, The Brig and Turlough arrive on the ship at the same time.
     Mawdryn is soon revealed to be part of a race that stole technology from the Time-Lords, intending to give themselves eternal life. Instead, the eight beings now undergo constant mutation and change, in constant agony. They ask the Doctor to give them his remaining lives in order to end theirs. The Doctor tries to refuse, but they have infected Tegan and Nyssa with a disease that will kill them if The Doctor tries to escape. He prepares to give up his lives, thus killing him, but the two Brigs meet and the resulting energy burst is enough to allow the mutants to die. Turlough, still affected by The Black Guardian, joins the Tardis crew.
     This story's costumes aren't very good. The mutants' costumes appear out of nowhere, Turlough's shoes are for some reason bright red, the Black Guardian has a dead bird on his head and Mawdryn's spaghetti-like head dress is... odd. However, that didn't do a lot against the story, where the focus is very much on the twisting turning plot.
The Black Guardian controls Turlough.
      The story juggles three or four different plots at a time. It wasn't like Doctor Who had done nothing to do with the concequences of Time Travel before, but Mawdryn Undead was the first time in a while that exploited that plot device in a Moffatian way. Events in one time clearly effect events in the later in a way that's only fully clear after the episode, and it's fun to try and focus on the exact aspects that change. Turlough's machinations aren't that interesting in the long run, but they'll come to a fore a few weeks down the road.
      Mawdryn Undead is quite dark for what it was - an effective juggling of many, many different plotlines and aspects that by rights shouldn't have been there. But despite this hodgepodge, the story is really enjoyable and hits on a lot of thematic levels - about change, for better and for worse. It's got a lot of visual problems on the surface, but beneath that there's a lot to enjoy.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Nyssa... leaves? Let it not be so.

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