CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Four To Doomsday

We haven't had a bit of classic Who for some time and now the hoo-ha has started to die down from the conclusion of the RTD era I think it's time we got back to the original series whilst we wait for Matt Smith to grace our screens. The last review was Castrovalva so here we go with Four To Doomsday.


January 1982

"I wouldn't dream of interfering with your monopticons!"

After the sophisticated understatement of Castrovalva, Four To Doomsday comes as a bit of shock, really. It's a very confused and confusing production and is rather shown up by its predecessor in the season. Overall, its a frustrating 'throw enough ideas at the wall and see what works' kind of story that one minute you're left feeling utterly underwhelmed by it and the next excited when something interesting actually happens.


Most of all, it feels like a throwback to the Hartnell days and with Terence Dudley scripting it suddenly dawns on you that perhaps he still thinks that this series is the same one he knew from the 1960s and that taking this approach will do. Arguably, this is the first serious mis-step by Nathan-Turner since Meglos and that was directed by...Terence Dudley. JNT: Note to self, avoid using Mr. Dudley.

It resembles The Ark in its peculiarly anachronistic feel despite the talk of microchips and research labs. The plot is bonkers: a big alien frog is heading for Earth aboard a huge ship. On board he has a population of native Australians, South Americans, Chinese and a Greek philosopher and they're androids. The frog plans to shrink the population of Earth and use the planet to make a load of silicon chips. His ultimate plan is to go back in time and meet God. And it's about the relative merits of freedom under tyranny or something...the surveillance society...and stuff and has lots of traditional dancing bits too.


And talking of dancing, most of the story seems to be padded out with various displays of traditional ethnic performance. It's almost like a variety show has turned up in the wrong studio and the performers have wandered into the set. I kept expecting to see Bruce Forsyth appear, muttering 'Good game, good game!'

You do kind of wonder who that blonde haired, young chap is that's wandered into the story. He seems to have been offered the part of the Doctor and spends quite a bit of time actually thinking someone's made a terrible mistake. It's plain that Davison really hadn't figured out what he was going to do with this. Unlike the previous incumbents in the role, who all more or less arrived and turned up the 'eccentric' oscillator switch to 100% and then spent the next three to seven years reducing and refining its effects to achieve their desired performance, Davison does the opposite. He switches off the eccentricity and the effect is an occasionally spiky blandness and an insecurity about how to deliver certain lines. Yet, by the end of Castrovalva he seemed to have figured it out. Pity then that Doomsday was actually recorded before that story and let loose on an audience before he really understood what he was doing.


Not only is Davison not quite hitting his mark but there's a bit of a struggle going on between the three actors playing the companions as to just who the heck they are. Tegan begins her two and half seasons worth of moaning here and slaps the TARDIS console around quite a bit, Adric does a complete volte face and becomes a naive little fascist and doesn't even notice how ridiculous he is and Nyssa goes ga-ga for androids. All sterotypical, broad brush strokes that tend to get repeated throughout this and other seasons when the script-writing gets a bit woolly and they're stuck trying to come up for stuff for three companions. To keep one companion, Mr Producer, may be regarded as fortunate; to keep three seems like over-indulgence.


Despite its mediocrity, there are some things to enjoy. Stratford Johns is rather delicious as the evil frog-god Monarch and the bobbly green make up looks good even today and Paul Shelley as henchman Persuasion displays some sinister comic timing. The set design by Tony Burrough is actually the main attraction here and is a visual treat but it seems so wasted on a rather standard story like this. The biggest disappointment is John Black's direction. He triumphed with The Keeper Of Traken but here he makes little effort to make a dull script better, engage the audience and to curb some of the pointless shouting matches between the regular characters. The effects are so-so, with the monopticons a minor triumph whilst the space-walk sequence involving Davison and a cricket ball, setting off those 'bad science in Doctor Who' alarms at full blast, is a little bit of a CSO nightmare as well.

But in the end this is full of unrealised ideas, trendy for the day science and has a final trouncing of Monarch that's such an underwhelming non-event you wondered just why they bothered. No wonder Nyssa passes out at the end...it must be exhausting to be so bland for nearly 90 minutes.

DVD Special Features
  • Commentary - With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, John Black and Matthew Waterhouse. As per usual with Fielding, she is none too complimentary about the story or the show and Waterhouse can very often come across as irritating. Davision demonstrates what a good 'company' man he must have been having to deal with these two whilst making the show.
  • Studio Recording - Enjoyable look behind the scenes with raw studio footage from Davison's first day in the studio and showing how pressurised it was making the show. You can find out how they moved their monopticons too.
  • Saturday Night At The Mill - Early bit of PR from Peter Davison on the weekend variant of Pebble Mill chat show. Also involves making milk shakes. Yes, you read that.
  • Theme Music Remix - It's 5.1 remix time again. 
  • Photo Gallery - Maintains the high standard of previous DVDs if you're into collections of publicity stills, design reference material and Stratford Johns looking like a frog. 
  • Info text, Radio Times Listings, Coming Soon trailer for The War Machines.
Four To Doomsday (BBCDVD2431 - Region 2 DVD - Cert PG - Released 15th September 2008)

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Comments
2 Responses to “CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Four To Doomsday”
  1. Ouch! I'm rather fond of Four To Doomsday. Perhaps I was shamelessly seduced by the wonderful sets.

  2. FRANK says:

    Alas, I'm not. Tony Burroughs sets are rather magnificent, Stratford Johns is great but as a story it's neither here nor there for me. One of the weakest of that first Davison season for me and as the years pass I like 'the Doctor with three companions' set up less and less.

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