Monday, 25 November 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Deadly Assassin (Revisited)

See here for my previous look at this story.

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The Crispy!Master in his first and most subtle appearance.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story Three - The Deadly Assassin (Revisited)
Written 4/6/13

The Deadly Assassin is bound in my memory to a certain level of uniqueness, standing out from the rest of Season 14 for not just its various casting and setting decisions, but for the levels of inbuilt political commentary and satire that rarely seem to show up in this era. The most detailed (and most well-done) portrayal of Time Lord society is riddled with reflections of 1970s politics, taking issues from both sides of the pond. At the same time, its story is pioneeringly different, taking place for the majority in a virtual reality, and forcing Tom Baker's Doctor to embody his more brutal and animalistic traits.
     Before this point, Time Lords and Gallifrey were held in a great deal of mystique. They first appeared in lofty positions during Two's last story, The War Games, and in the 10th Anniversary story The Three Doctors. To the outrage of many a comtemporary fan (and to my absolute delight), The Deadly Assassin humanises the Time Lords and paints a picture of the unequal, degenerative society that The Doctor was so desperate to get away from. Cardinal Borusa tries to "adjust the truth", the Capitol is filled entirely with white males (probably an unconscious choice on behalf of the producers but what ho) and there are high-ups so deperate for power that they'd work with The Master.
     The story's companion-replacement is the wonderful George Pravda as Castellan Pravda, adding his Czechoslovakian tones to both great comic relief and in enforcing some of the story's political ideas. He heads up a strong (unfortunately all-male) cast that also features Hugh Walters as the young newsreader Runcible, three-time guest actor Bernard Horsfall as misled villain Chancellor Goth and Angus Mackay as the first-seen incarnation of Borusa, one of the more interesting Time Lord recurring characters. All are quite strong, especially Horsfall who relishes his final and lengthiest appearance as the story's villain, joining The Doctor in exploring his own ruthlessness in the Matrix.
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George Pravda is great as Castellan Spandrell
     The Matrix sequence, beyond the rest of the episode's satire and political themes, is what should make this story stand out for the everyman. Robert Holmes uses the opportunity to throw everything at us, mixing imagery of clowns, World War II fighter jets, samurai warriors. There are a few scenes where The Doctor attempts to deny the reality that he's fighting in, and that leads to some cool effects. Perhaps a tiny complaint would be that half-way through Part Three when you're watching Tom Baker and Bernard Horsfall play a game of cat and mouse in a Jungle, you get either so engrossed or so bored that you forget that it's Doctor Who at all.
     The Deadly Assassin marks the transition between the era of Sarah-Jane and the beginning of the end of Hinchcliffe's tenure. It was a challenge for the show, its charismatic lead and for the contemporary fanbase, but in this one little story the show was redefined as something with a rich backstory and a grandeur to it. It opened the door for the remaining Gallifrey stories, for references to Gallifrey and the Time Lords throughout the rest of the Classic Series, to the Expanded Universe and Koschei and Theta Sigma. The Deadly Assassin showed us that putting human dramas onto alien cultures, especially ones as revered as the Time Lords, was not a bad thing - and sometimes worked better than looking at them first hand.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: I decide whether Leela is eye-candy or brain-food in The Face of Evil.

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