CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO : The E-Space Trilogy / State Of Decay



State Of Decay

November to December 1980

'Then die, that is the purpose of guards'

Take one teaspoon of Hinchcliffe, one teaspoon of Williams, a sprinkle of Nathan-Turner and then throw it all in to a slowly marinading pot of Terry Dicks and...your taste buds are in for a treat.

Dicks' script was put on the backburner back in 1977 (the BBC getting in a tizzy about it being too similar to their prestige production Count Dracula) so you can't get more steeped in tradition than that. It keeps its Gothic trappings for this revived version so it's often accused of being a bit of a throwback. I find that rather a load of nonsense. For me, it's an indication of the production team's confidence that they feel they can go for the traditional whilst still pushing their 'modernising' agenda.

Still in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana and stowaway Adric find themselves on a planet where the local inhabitants are held in thrall by the 'Three Who Rule' - astronauts turned vampire by an ancient Gallifreyan enemy.

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With the story in 'Hammer' mode - a hyper Gothic production dripping in atmosphere with superb production design (Christine Ruscoe take a bow), costumes, make up, lighting etc - it's the script that cleverly understands how to undercut the stifling ambience with a great deal of wit and insight into the genre itself. Bidmead, being his usual self, then throws in some of his 'science-mysticism' obsessions to remind us that this is Season 18 not Season 14. Some of the ideas have seen the light of day before - namely The Face Of Evil - where an almost medieval society has grown out of science and technology and transposed it into a quasi religion/magic. But it works well because everything else in the production has such a commitment behind it.

It's probably the best work director Peter Moffat has ever done on the series with some truly wonderful visual flourishes - a highlight being the mixing of the slow motion bat footage over the face of Aukon still remains a potent image and is redolent of Herzog's similar approach to his 1979 Nosferatu - and he seems to rally the actors into giving some rather gorgeous performances which is an achievement considering he had two leading actors who couldn't bear to be in the same room as one another at the time. He seems to tune into the prevailing mood and is sensitive enough to heighten it.

Emrys James as Aukon totally steals the show and manages a knife-edge balancing act between outright camp and deadly seriousness with a flirtatious, full blooded (pardon the pun) performance. He projects menace and danger and makes it clear that Aukon is truly the power behind the other two, Zargo and Camilla. Rachel Davies is also exceptional as Camilla, all bestial and erotic menace. And William Lindsay is good as the ruthless Zargo with a stillness in his performance that counters the exuberance of the others. They are all sensual creatures, giving the relationships between them and characters such as Adric and Romana a curious sexual frisson, from Camilla's interest in draining Romana of her blood to a very redolent scene where Aukon whispers sweet nothings into Adric's ear! Matthew Waterhouse again is fine as Adric, despite the dreadful 'console room walk' in one of the TARDIS interior scenes. I certainly get the impression he's not a confident physical actor from this and later stories. But as a pawn in the machinations of the Three Who Rule, as a victim of the predatious Aukon, he does sublimated innocence well. Adric's out of his depth and that's how it's played. The Doctor and Romana are pissed off that they have to rescue him and that's how it's played.

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This frisson also carries through to the two leads, Baker and Ward, especially in the scene in the cell which bounces from an erotic romanticism, mutual admiration and a sense that this is the last time we'll see Romana and the Doctor this close as friends. Lots of undercurrents run through State Of Decay and the performances and direction seize on this to truly advance the notion that big changes are on the way and things will never be the same again.

The one element that does irritate me is that K9 is trundled out yet again and is just a handy weapon to shoot down opponents. There's an equal sense that this is as far as you can take the original Williams era Doctor/Romana/K9 triumvirate and it's their last outing and this fits neatly alongside the faded potential of the three crew members of the Hydrax. 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here' seems a rather significant epithet. The visual effects are a little disappointing with the tower-ship model not really convincing enough to provide the grand climax. It's all been building so well to the unveiling of the Great Vampire (a lovely bit of Gallifreyan mythology from Uncle Terrance) and his demise. We get a rather wobbly rocket and a crudely made up hand from the effects team poking up through a scale model to provide a climax. A bit ho-hum. However, the Three Who Rule disintegration sequence is a triumph and betters the similar effects in countless Hammer films and more significantly is more satisfying than the death of Dracula in the BBC's own production in 1977. Two fingers up to the Head of BBC Drama there, I think.

Paddy Kingsland's score is memorable and isn't intrusive and is a further evolution of the approach that Nathan-Turner opted for. It suits the production well and is subtle and moody in most of the right places. Overall then, a dark and moody tale that often takes the hard science approach of earlier stories and twists it out of shape into techno Gothic science-mysticism more concerned with the nature of legends, myths and magic than CVEs, E-Space and block transfer computation. It contains some of the best performances of Season 18, certainly gives the later The Keeper Of Traken a run for its money on the use of production design and is gloriously traditional within the context of the modernising approaches being taken. It's truly the last hurrah for the series as we knew it circa 1977-79 and for me, on recent viewing, came across as a rather under-rated little gem.

DVD features:

  • Commentary with actor Matthew Waterhouse, director Peter Moffatt and writer Terrance Dicks.
  • The Vampire Lovers – cast and crew look back at the making of this story.
  • Film Trims – mute 35mm film trims from the model effects filming for the story, featuring alternative takes of the Tower and the scout ship staking the Great Vampire.
  • Leaves of Blood – a history of Vampires in literary fiction featuring authors Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman, Pete Crowther, Simon Clark, Alison L R Davies, Chris Fowler and vampire specialist Dr Tina Rath.
  • The Blood Show – a fascinating insight into the use and meaning of blood in society and culture.
  • The Frayling Reading – cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling looks at State of Decay with reference to the vampire stories of film and literature.
  • Continuity – BBC continuity announcements from the original transmission, Photo Gallery, Isolated Score, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Material, Programme Subtitles, Subtitle Production Notes.
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THE E-SPACE TRILOGY - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1835, Region 2, Released 26th January 2009)

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