Saturday, 3 January 2015

Story 112 - State of Decay

In which the Doctor, Romana and K9 are still trapped in E-Space, searching for a way back to N-Space. They come upon a planet which seems devoid of any advanced technology - save for one small settlement clustered around a tower. After the Doctor and Romana leave the ship to explore, Adric - the boy they had met on Alzarius - emerges from hiding and follows them. The villagers live in fear of the Three Who Rule - who dwell in the Tower. Periodically, the guards come to the village and select people to go to the Tower - ostensibly to work for the Three. None ever returns. Recently, head of the village Ivo saw his son taken. The Doctor and Romana are assumed to be connected to the Three. Adric arrives at the village some time later and is given shelter by Ivo and his wife. Another selection takes place - and this time one of the Three conducts it in person. He is Aukon, the Chancellor. Recognising something different in Adric, he is selected. Aukon is perturbed to learn about the Doctor and Romana and sends his servants to find them. These are bats, which he can control.

The Doctor and Romana encounter a group of men who take them to an underground base hidden in the forest. In charge is an old man named Kalmar. Ivo had earlier contacted him to tell him of the strangers. Kalmar sees himself as a scientist - something outlawed on this world - and shows them some defunct electronic equipment. The Doctor gets a computer working and they find that it belongs to a crashed spaceship from Earth - the Hydrax. There are photos of the crew, and Tarak, one of Kalmar's men who once worked at the Tower, recognises them as the Three Who Rule - apparently descendants of the Hydrax personnel.
The Doctor and Romana are allowed to leave and decide to make their way to the Tower, where they meet Aukon as well as King Zargo and Queen Camilla. Left alone in the throne room, Romana ponders on the names of the Hydrax crew - Sharkey, MacMillan and O'Connor - and they realise that these names have been corrupted over time to Zargo, Camilla and  Aukon. They discover that this tower is actually the ship itself and escape from the throne room. To their horror, they find that the fuel tanks are full of blood. The selected villagers are being killed and drained. The truth begins to dawn as the Doctor recalls an ancient legend of Gallifrey. They are recaptured and learn of Adric's presence here. They are freed by Tarak. Whilst Romana tries to locate Adric, the Doctor returns to the TARDIS to check on that ancient legend - a war between the Time Lords and a race of giant Vampires...

The legend proves to have been fact. The Vampires were destroyed thanks to the use of Bow Ships, which fired massive bolts through their hearts. However, the leader was never found, and the Doctor deduces that it must have travelled into E-Space with the Hydrax. Rather than being descendants of the original crew, the Three Who Rule are the original crew. Instead of feeding the Great Vampire, which hibernates beneath the Tower, Adric is to be turned into a Vampire. Tarak is killed and Romana captured - to be sacrificed as part of the Great Vampire's imminent reawakening. The Doctor lends K9 to Kalmar and his group mounts an attack on the Tower. The Doctor goes to the top of the Tower where there are three scout ships. One has a last vestige of power. He sets it to launch. The craft rises then falls back to earth - impaling the Great Vampire through the heart. As it dies, the Three rapidly grow old and perish - crumbling to dust. Kalmar and Ivo can now try to build a new society on this planet. Adric departs with the Doctor, Romana and K9 in the TARDIS.

This four part adventure was written by Terrance Dicks, and was broadcast between 22nd November and 13th December, 1980.
When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer, scripts for his first season were in a bad way. Graham Williams and Douglas Adams had struggled to find fresh writing talent and, knowing they were going, had left the story larder rather bare. JNT had little interest in, and even less knowledge of, the scripting side of things. Christopher Bidmead was left to sort things out whilst JNT headed off for a convention. His idea of priorities would be something that would cause problems for the rest of his tenure. Exec-producer Barry Letts, someone who knew the importance of the writing, was furious and berated JNT on his return. It is worth pointing out that, although not all of them had scripts that made it into production, JNT was the first producer since Peter Bryant never to write a Doctor Who story. (Derrick Sherwin wrote The Invasion and the brilliant first episode of The Mind Robber; Letts wrote those Pertwee season enders and The Daemons with Robert Sloman; Hinchcliffe has had stories recently produced by Big Finish: and Williams wrote the almost produced Season 23 story The Nightmare Fair).
One script that was available and in reasonable shape was an unused Season 15 piece by Dicks. JNT had been adamant that he did not want to use any of the writers from previous seasons, but naturally Letts would have championed something by his old friend and colleague, and it would need little work to get it up and running.
"The Witch Lords" was supposed to have opened Season 15, but it coincided with the BBC making a prestige adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring French actor Louis Jourdan as the Count. It was felt at the time that a Doctor Who story featuring vampires would be viewed as something of a parody, and the script was scrapped at a very late stage. Dicks wrote Horror of Fang Rock as a replacement.
The chosen director for State of Decay, as the revised script was eventually retitled, was Peter Moffatt (the man who forced future Doctor Peter Davison to change his name). He loved the Gothic trappings, but Bidmead did not. Gothic horror did not sit with his hard science concept for the series, and he heavily edited it to remove all the trappings which had attracted Moffatt. Moffatt then refused to make the story, so all the Gothic stuff got put back in.

Thank goodness Moffatt stood his ground - because the visuals are one of the great things about this story. The sets, make up and costumes all work really well, so long as you ignore the surfeit of fake beards for the villagers. Things to watch out for: the way that Zargo and Camilla move around each other - like a dance; the slow-motion bat in flight, superimposed over Aukon's eyes; the little piece of business between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward as to who sits where in the throne room. Then there is the proper Hammer Horror disintegration sequence for the Three at the end. It is far superior to some of the Hammer vampire film demises.
The only real failing, visually, is the realisation of the Great Vampire - either as a dreadful puppet or someone wearing a joke shop scary claw.
The cast is particularly strong in the Three Who Rule department - all are superb. Aukon is Emrys James who plays it absolutely dead straight. One of the best guest turns ever. Zargo is William Lindsay and Camilla is Rachel Davies. It is a joy to observe the latter pair work together - just watch the way they move.
Kalmar is veteran actor Arthur Hewlett, who will return to the series in Terror of the Vervoids. Ivo is played - rather woodenly - by Clinton Greyn, whose next appearance will be as blustery Sontaran Stike in The Two Doctors. (The scene where he has to apologise to K9 is one of the few forgettable moments - quite embarrassingly bad).
Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are excellent throughout - though Tom hams a bit with the Henry V speech... It is their last great story together - as they are pretty much separated for much of their final outing together. Matthew Waterhouse is given little to do as Adric (or any secondary companion) obviously never featured in the original script, and Dicks struggled to include him.
Episode endings are:
  1. As the Doctor and Romana make their way through the woods, they are attacked by a swarm of bats...
  2. In the cavern beneath the Tower, the Doctor and Romana are confronted by Aukon...
  3. In their inner sanctum, Zargo and Camilla awake. They kill Tarak and advance menacingly on Romana...
  4. The Doctor and his companions continue on their quest to find a way out of E-Space...

Overall, you can't beat a good vampire tale - and this is a good vampire tale. It is my favourite of the "E-Space Trilogy", and I'm glad to see that the DWM 50th Anniversary poll agrees. (Full Circle is least popular, but percentage points-wise they are all quite close to each other). JNT jettisoning the past is already starting to look like throwing the baby out with the bath water. And Christopher Bidmead is, not for the last time, proved wrong in his approach to the programme.
Things you might like to know:
  • Terrance Dicks came up with a new title - "The Vampire Mutation". Bidmead didn't like it. He proposed instead "The Wasting". Dicks didn't like it. Dicks would later use his title as a chapter heading for the BBC book The Eight Doctors, which launched the range. (This story actually inspires a few of the novels).
  • Just what is the "Wasting" anyway? The Three Who Rule protect the villagers from it, apparently. It gets a mention in the first episode and is then completely forgotten about.
  • Tom Baker has been looking rather gaunt all season so far. He was ill during the making of this story and so had to have his hair curled artificially.
  • Dicks chooses his names carefully. The second syllable of the ship's name is obviously going to put us in mind of the infamous Count; and Camilla comes from Hammer's other sequence of vampire movies - the naughtier ones that were inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu.
  • There is a definite sexual undertone to Aukon's interest in Adric...
  • Talking of which, the Three are a bit rubbish at recruiting. They're hundreds of years old, and their boss is about to wake up expecting a new army of recruits. What will they have to show for it? Matthew Waterhouse. Worst. Vampire Legion. Ever.
  • This is the first story Mr Waterhouse actually filmed.
  • You can tell we have some 1970's alumni working on the programme (a Dicks / Letts reunion no less) as we get another reference to K'anpo. It was that old hermit half way up a mountain on Gallifrey who first told the Doctor about Rassilon's war with the Vampires.
  • As much as we all like this story, as part of a trilogy it doesn't actually work. It is like a separate adventure that could just as easily be stand-alone (as it was originally intended). Only the first and last stories really deal with E-Space and CVE's.
  • In the "episode endings" bit above I refer to a swarm of bats. Yes, I do know that the collective noun for bats is a colony. But in Hammer Horror films, and Doctor Who, bats definitely swarm...

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