Monday 9 December 2013

Story 88 - The Deadly Assassin

In which the Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey by nightmare visions in which he appears to assassinate the President of the High Council of Time Lords. In the visions, he sees a ceremony taking place in the Panopticon - the great council chamber of the Capitol - and the elderly President is shot down. He sees himself holding a rifle and apparently firing the fatal shot.
The TARDIS materialises on the day that the President is about to retire and name his successor. The Doctor evades capture by Castellan Spandrell - head of security - and his Chancellery Guards, as he plots a means of warning the authorities about his vision - which he takes to be a premonition. He is inadvertently aided by Chancellor Goth, who orders the TARDIS to be transported to the museum - with the Doctor still hidden aboard. Goth is leader of the Prydonian Chapter of Time Lords - the Doctor's own chapter. He is widely expected to be the new President. The Doctor steals the robes of the Gold Usher from the museum, then those of an elderly Prydonian. In this guise, he is able to enter the Panopticon and mingle with the crowd. He meets Commentator Runcible - an old school acquaintance - who is covering the ceremony for state television. Runcible loses contact with his cameraman up on the high gallery, and the Doctor looks up to see the barrel of a staser rifle pointing down. He rushes upstairs only to find the gun abandoned. Spotting an assassin in the crowd surrounding the President he tries to shoot them - but the shot goes wide and the President is killed. It is assumed the Doctor is the assassin and he is arrested.

The Doctor is put on trial - Goth eager to see justice run its course before the Presidential election. Cardinal Borusa is opposed to this. Once the Doctor's tutor at the Academy, he would rather see cautious deliberation. The Doctor surprises everyone by announcing his own candidacy for the Presidency. As a candidate, he has legal immunity until after the election. Spandrell suspects there may be some truth in the Doctor's story and agrees to help him investigate. First of all, the Doctor's rifle shot is found high up on the wall. The sights of his weapon had been fixed. Then, the camera recording is stolen and Runcible murdered. The Doctor realises that the visions were somehow beamed into his mind from the Matrix - a computer which holds all the mental energy of deceased Time Lords. This helps the Time Lords predict future events. They did not see the assassination however. Someone must have intercepted this information and directed it at the Doctor. They would need access to his biological data print to do this over such a huge distance. Spandrell and the Doctor enlist the help of Co-ordinator Engin to look into this. Who could have accessed the Matrix and obtained the data print? Who would also want to frame him for murder? He realises that his old enemy, the Master, is behind all this.

The Doctor decides the answers lie inside the Matrix. He will join his mind with it. In a nightmare world created and controlled by the Master, the Doctor must combat the real assassin - Chancellor Goth. He eventually defeats him. The Master is traced to the lowermost levels of the Capitol. He is dead. The body is skeletal, his regenerations long exhausted. A dying Goth is also found. He confesses that he found the Master near death on the planet Tersusrus, and smuggled him back to Gallifrey. He had learned that he was not going to be named President, and so entered into this scheme to kill him before he could name another - and frame the Doctor into the bargain. The Doctor is troubled. The Master appears to have killed himself - something he simply would not do. It turns out that it he has really used a drug that feigns death. His true scheme is to steal the energy of the Eye of Harmony - the captured Black Hole from which the Time Lords derive their power. This should provide him with new regenerative energy. His tampering with the Eye - a huge black monolith hidden under the Panopticon - will destroy the planet. The Doctor manages to stop him, and the Master appears to fall to his death down a fissure which opens up in the floor as the Capitol is rocked by tremors.
Soon after the Doctor departs, Spandrell and Engin see an old grandfather clock dematerialise from the museum. The Master has survived...

This four part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and broadcast between 30th October and 20th November, 1976. The director is David Maloney.
It is significant for many reasons, and at the time, was highly controversial. Certain sections of fandom hated the way that the Time Lords were portrayed (chief amongst them Jan Vincent-Rudzki, the head of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society). The complaint was that the omnipotent god-like beings seen in the series up to this point were now shown to be just like us - with all our human physical and emotional frailties. There were arthritic old men, devious killers and manipulative politicians. Prisoners were tortured. The truth could be adjusted to make it more palatable to the public. There is a shadowy intelligence group who operate outside the law (see below). The Doctor thinks Gallifreyan technology is obsolete rubbish.
The argument that Holmes has demystified the Time Lords does not quite bear examination. Vincent-Rudzki seemed to be basing his criticisms purely on their brief appearance in Part 10 of The War Games.
Thereafter, they are seen to be absolute hypocrites. They don't agree with interference in the affairs of others, but are happy to use the Doctor to do just that. (In this story, we learn that it is the Celestial Intervention Agency who employ the Doctor on these missions). They are also happy to break their own laws - especially around Time Lords crossing their own timelines.
Holmes' main argument in defence was that, if Time Lord society was so nice, why did the Doctor leave it and not want to go back? It wan't just the lure of the Universe that set him on his travels. He was also turning his back on a corrupt and decadent society. We also had to see the society that was capable of producing someone like the Master (and the Monk, and the War Chief). It is a society that has also executed a previous President (Morbius). And they were prepared to commit genocide with the Daleks - something which will obviously come back to haunt them.

The story is also significant for giving us much Time Lord lore - from Rassilon and the Eye of Harmony to the regenerations limit. Rassilon's Seal is a reused prop from The Revenge of the Cybermen, also designed by Roger Murray-Leach. Oscar winner James Acheson began the costume designs but stepped aside and they were completed by Joan Ellacott. Acheson's iconic Time Lord collars and robes are still in use today.
There is a wonderful guest cast. The late Bernard Horsfall (a Maloney regular) plays Goth, and the dessicated Master is portrayed by operatic singer Peter Pratt (selected for his voice skills as he is under so much costume / mask). Spandrell is George Pravda, in his third Doctor Who appearance. Engin is the marvellous Eric Chitty, who had previously played the apothecary Preslin in The Massacre. Every Borusa will be played by a different actor, but the first is Angus MacKay. MacKay was due to return in The Invasion of Time but proved to be unavailable for filming when production was hit by strike action.
Episode endings are:

  1. As the President emerges into the Panopticon, the Doctor raises the staser rifle and fires. The President falls to the floor...
  2. In the Matrix, the Doctor finds his foot trapped between railway points. He hears a train hurtle towards him...
  3. Goth and the Doctor are fighting to the death. Goth appears to get the upper hand, holding the Doctor down in the water to drown...
  4. Engin and Spandrell see the Master's slightly regenerated features appear in the face of an old grandfather clock, just before it dematerialises...  

As mentioned, a very significant and contentious story. It is often said that this is the only companion-less story of the classic series, but really Spandrell and Engin generally act as surrogate companions, making for a memorable Holmes double act. The mostly Matrix-bound episode three is one of the things this story will always be remembered for.
Things you might like to know:

  • There are three Time Lord Chapters mentioned, each with its own colour scheme. The Doctor and Goth belong to the Prydonians (orange and scarlet); the Arcalians (green) and Patrexes (heliotrope). Runcible implies there are others.
  • The TARDIS is first referred to as a Type 40 in this story. It was a Mark 1 back in the Hartnell period.
  • The story is influenced by political thrillers such as The Parallax View and The Manchurian Candidate, as well as the real life assassinations of JFK (on the very eve of Doctor Who's first broadcast), Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Holmes makes the point explicitly when he names the outfit responsible for the Doctor's frequent missions - and his War Games "trial" - the Celestial Intervention Agency (the CIA).
  • The story title has often been slightly ridiculed - aren't all assassins deadly? (A working title was The Dangerous Assassin, which would have been even worse...). Robert Holmes did point out that you might get an assassin who isn't very good at their job, however.
  • The Matrix causes the Doctor's scarf to appear and disappear...
  • Not for the last time, Action Man dolls will be used for the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator victims.
  • The story seems to imply that not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords. It does seem odd that some of the (supposedly omnipotent) beings would hold down fairly menial jobs. Who is Runcible broadcasting to?
  • There are a lot of odd, but uncomplicated, Time Lord names. We have to assume that the Doctor's real name is similar.
  • It is unclear from this story which incarnation of the Master the Delgado one actually was. Is this a later incarnation, or that one - dying and decomposing?
  • The regenerations limit debate is, we're told, finally going to be resolved in Time of the Doctor. Might it have something to do with the fact that Borusa offers the Master a whole new regeneration cycle in The Five Doctors...?

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