Let’s start positive ok? There are some great ideas in the story, and a great premise. ‘Four to Doomsday’ is set entirely inside a space ship, and for the most part it’s the best looking space ship (on the inside) they have probably ever done to this point on Doctor Who. Veteran BBC writer but new to Who, Terence Dudley started from a good place.
|The Doctor gives Tegan the key to the TARDIS.|
However. If I was to laughingly call this story ‘Four to Snoozeday’, you might instantly get an idea of what’s wrong with the story. Yes, it’s painfully slow. Especially the first three episodes. And some of the ideas are not fleshed out. We have Stratford Johns, a stalwart of the TV series ‘Z Cars’, playing the main villain, an Erbankan called ‘Monarch’. Some pretty nice make up for the character too. We hear that his main plan is to go back in time when he has worked out how to go faster than light, and meet himself at the beginning of the Universe. Why? Because he believes he is God! Well, that sounds really interesting to me. However, it was merely mentioned in the story. We didn’t actually see Monarch talk about this plan.
|Chinese and Indigenous Australian leaders.|
Instead Monarch goes throughout the story from believing the Doctor trusts him to wanting the Doctor killed back to trusting him… it’s a real yoyo effect.
The companion characters are very poorly written. In fact they are pretty much shunted off as much as possible. Tegan moves the TARDIS – to just outside the space ship in an attempt to take it to Earth to warn everyone what was coming. For two episodes she is pretty much stuck in the TARDIS on her own saying ‘rabbits!’ She also happens to speak the exact dialect that the Aboriginal leader aboard the space ship does. The odds of that are zero. ZERO. ZEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Nyssa does a bit here and there, but not that much and Adric has the worst arc of all believing Moarch ahead of the Doctor in what was simply an unbelievable turn of events. I understand that they wanted the character to be somewhat naïve but really, it just seemed stupid.
|The Doctor and Bigon (Philip Locke)|
The Doctor… well this was Peter Davison’s first story filmed so I will cut him some slack but the emphasis on many lines doesn’t seem quite right and he is frequently angry at his companions and it just doesn’t work very well. He was finding his feet and has freely admitted feeling very unsure about the role at the time – he didn’t ever watch ‘Four to Doomsday’ until he recorded the commentary for it for the DVD!
The idea that they are on a space ship, four days from a date with Earth where Monarch intends to spread a virus, is great. Quite original. Hence the cool title! On the ship we have different ethnic groups – Aborigines from 36000 years ago or something, Greeks, Miyans, Chinese… but they are androids with chips… of Erbankans I think. It’s a little unclear. Except most only have motor functions. And every five minutes they have a cultural dance.
This story would have worked well as a 2 or maybe 3 parter. For four it just stretches the premise too far and so much of the story is filler. Dancing and the like. And after the first episode is very slow indeed.
|The Doctor in space.|
But there is a bit to like as I have mentioned. Add to that the climax of episode two – when Bigon (Philip Locke) reveals he is an android of sorts and pulls out his chip from a metal frame and says ‘this is me’. Right up there with the most chilling of cliff-hangers. The design is great too, although occasionally it’s obvious that the walls are basically molded plastic.
What could have worked is if four episodes were squashed into three, and in the final episode Monarch takes the TARDIS back to the beginning of the Universe to look for himself. That would have been a great conclusion and a payback for this information about Monarch which Terence Dudley never followed through with.
Finally, there’s a scene where the Doctor throws a cricket ball at the ship (he is suspended in space) which bounces back and he catches it, using the momentum to take him to the suspended TARDIS with Tegan inside. Ok, so he couldn’t survive in space for a second let alone six minutes as he claimed, and perhaps the science is completely wrong (although listening to the splendid chaps podcast they believe it’s all good), it’s still rather a good scene and shot very well by director John Black.
The drawbacks are principally the lack of pace and excitement. But it’s not the worst of stories, if still a little dry.