CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO : New Beginings / Logopolis


February – March 1981

‘You revolting man!’

Logopolis is still a very divisive story. It’s not the swan song that many fans were expecting for the Tom Baker era and it was probably not the one Baker himself was expecting at the time either. However, I would argue that the conclusion of the era was more than appropriate. Not only does the story articulate our sorrow at the departure of the Fourth Doctor, arguably an incarnation with nowhere else to go within the ‘modernising’ notions of Nathan-Turner’s first season as producer, but also it’s a statement in itself of where the series has been and where it is about to go. The story and the characters are held within a past-future tension and appropriately within the context of the story, and as the Monitor states, the Universe (and the series) has gone beyond the point of heat death. The series itself, uncannily, falls into its own loop of recursion in order to stave off entropy and continue on. Therefore, Bidmead’s treatise on entropy, recursion and change is in itself also a statement on Doctor Who.

The Doctor and Adric set out to repair the TARDIS chameleon circuit and are trapped by the Master. In order to affect repairs, the TARDIS arrives on Logopolis whose inhabitants use intoned code to create mathematical models. Unknown to the Doctor, they also hold entropy at bay in a dying Universe, and the Master seizes an opportunity to hold the Universe to ransom…

The pervading sense of doom, the funeral like atmosphere and unavoidable pre-determined outcome of Logopolis tie in with the inevitable passing of our hero and with many of the themes already articulated in Season 18. Peter Grimwade just about manages to balance these elements with Bidmead’s science-philosophy on thermodynamics, entropy, block transfer computation to provide an apocalyptic scenario fitting enough to send the Doctor on his way. It’s amazing how death permeates the narrative – from the three lost soul companions (Adric without his brother, Nyssa without her father and mother- and soon her planet-and Tegan without Auntie Vanessa), the deaths of several Logopolitans and the Monitor to the billions killed as the wave of entropy gobbles up the Universe. Highest body count ever, one would assume? But the story is also about life reaffirming itself, about rebirth and renewal of a kind.

Looking at Logopolis today the only things that let it down are the production design and the effects work. The surface of the planet isn’t really constructed well enough to give that epic feel that's fit for the purposes of the narrative and the rather confined sets often prevent Grimwade from doing a decent bit of directing and proper blocking of actors and thus many scenes end up looking theatrical and rather flat. The model work is perfunctory at best and is often quite crude – the radiotelescope dish on Earth being the worst offender – and our old friend CSO pops up as the Doctor scrambles to his demise on the gantry, along with an obvious photo blow up of the Master in the background. The mix between studio and location towards the end of the fourth episode is often very distracting too. This is a shame as the standards achieved thus far in Season 18 have been very high indeed.

That aside, Grimwade puts a lot of effort into making Bidmead's script coherent and he's aided by good performances generally and a very striking score from Paddy Kingsland. There’s a great deal here to savour, the intriguing ideas and concepts not withstanding, from Tegan’s introduction as she prepares to start her job (possibly taking longer than necessary to establish her character to the detriment of Adric and, later, Nyssa), the evocative scenes of the Doctor meeting the Watcher on the bridge above the Thames, the spiralling recursion of the interlocked TARDISES, the very dignified Monitor (a lovely, regal performance by John Fraser) battling to save the crumbling Universe and then the Doctor's regeneration itself. Yes, flooding the TARDIS to purge the Master is ridiculous and yes, the Master holding the Universe to ransom with a tape recorder is ridiculous too but they don’t do too much damage to an intricate narrative, a crystal like structure reflecting on the past and future, refracting and doubling as the current Doctor’s demise folds into the new Doctor’s birth. The threat isn't resolved particularly well - does the CVE close or remain open? - but the journey is worthwhile.

I’m still not convinced by the shoehorning in of Nyssa as a companion – she starts out as an extra cog and does remain that way – but Sarah Sutton does get that tremendous scene to play where she witnesses the death of Traken and she handles it with very great subtlety. And despite the good introduction, Tegan comes across as a self-centred, loud, whinging woman more concerned about her job than the fate of the Universe. There are a few too many scenes of her clacking round TARDIS corridors that become tiresome. Matthew Waterhouse is actually great in this – his rapport with the fourth Doctor working very well – and this is perhaps the best he’ll be until Earthshock. Ainley’s portrayal of the Master hasn’t yet descended into the ‘heh, heh, heh’ one note performance that blights the series from Season 19 onwards so he works well within the story, especially when he realises what a fuck-up he’s made by attacking Logopolis itself. He comes across as suitably unhinged and devious here. Finally, there’s Tom. The melancholy of the previous stories reaches a climax here in a beautifully reflective performance, aching with resignation and impending change, signifying not just the thematic cul-de-sac that the fourth Doctor’s arrived in but also Tom’s realisation that it’s time for him to go too. It’s full of sadness.

And the past/future tension I spoke of earlier radiates from the story’s dual attempt to move the series on into the future whilst regressing into the past. Many have noted that it essentially returns the series to its roots in An Unearthly Child both visually and thematically, as well as referencing Terror Of The Autons and The Time Monster. The final knot in this tension is the parade of references to monsters and companions in the ‘life flashing before me’ regeneration sequence. This, to me, sums up what the next eight years will be about – an anally-retentive focus on continuity and recycling of old concepts (there will be further flashback sequences like this) whilst struggling to give the programme a new direction. If this had merely been a one off then its status would be assured (and it works very well in context) but we know it wasn't a one off...

Further, Logopolis is also the point where, and if you'll indulge me I'll paraphrase French philosopher Baudrillard’s theory, we see 'the end of the era of the original'. With Bidmead bringing the series ‘full circle’ and back to the start of the original narrative in An Unearthly Child and then with the later Five Faces re-runs in 1981 we enter a period where the original is replaced by a series of simulacra of Doctor Who. And not just through re-runs on television, as the early 1980s also saw the arrival of home video. The original narrative ceases and is looped over on itself not just through Seasons 19-26 but also through access to previous simulacra of the original – the reissuing of the back catalogue of the series on VHS.

Baudrillard put it well, in his meditation on Western society, in which he described this society as a real territory that through massive change had been replaced by a copy or a map of that territory. The real is superceded by the signs of its existence, the copy. In 1981, the original Doctor Who is signified by a re-run of five adventures, a re-run of copies of the original (Troughton, Pertwee et al), whilst Logopolis signifies the closure of this narrative, the destruction of mystery (from Castrovalva onwards ‘Doctor Who’ becomes ‘The Doctor’ in the credits and those arch signifiers, the lapel question marks, are frozen into the Doctor's costume/uniform), the ritual adherence to a map, rather than the original territory of the series, in order to continue. With me so far?

So that fatal regeneration becomes symbolic of the show’s own entropy, the closing in of narrative and the reliance on reproduction of past signifiers – the return of old foes, continuity references – and the Master is also a visual symbol of this action; at once a copy of the original (Delgado, Pratt et al) but not the original. It’s significant that Baker lets go of the series and of the radiotelescope at the same time. Not only has the Watcher (surely another symbol of this closing down of the original) explained his (the Doctor's) fate within the narrative but he’s also a symbol of his (Baker's) fate outside of it too. The bold experiment of Season 18 also pretty much ends here. Apart from stories Bidmead commissioned before his departure that would get made in the following season, there is a sense, from 1981 onwards, of the dependency on the simulated past, the reproduction of the original rather than the continuation of it, as a map through this territory, becoming the focus. Doctor Who becomes its own mythology from this point onwards, it's own recursive occlusion, it becomes "Doctor Who"

is therefore not just the apt swan-song of Baker and the fourth Doctor seen through the prism of previous foes and companions, the re-emergence of the Master and the 'modernising' of the show but also it's the end of the original Doctor Who. The story iterates the science of block transfer computation as a way of restoring the TARDIS' original function, of producing a copy of the police box to repair its past status. In effect, Bidmead and Nathan-Turner produce a 'block transfer computation' of the original show at this point which fits in very neatly with Baudrillard's theories about copies replacing and dominating over originals. It's a beautifully sad and sublime ending...

DVD Features:

  • Commentary from actors Tom Baker and Janet Fielding, plus writer Christopher H. Bidmead
  • A New Body at Last - a new documentary covering the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. Featuring actors Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton and Adrian Gibbs, script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, directors Peter Moffatt and John Black. Narrated by Denis Lawson (50 mins)
  • Nationwide - Tom Baker - an interview with Tom Baker from the BBC news magazine show
  • Nationwide - Peter Davison - an interview with Peter Davison on his forthcoming role as the Doctor
  • Pebble Mill at One - Peter Davison - Peter Davison interviewed on the long-running BBC lunchtime show (12 mins)
  • News Items - a selection of BBC News items, including reports on Tom Baker and Lalla Ward's wedding, the announcement of Tom Baker's departure and Peter Davison's arrival

NEW BEGINNINGS - 3 disc set (BBCDVD1331, Region 2, Released 22nd January 2007)

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