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Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin

01/03/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBSDVD 2430. Price: about GBP 6.00 (UK) if you know where to look. DVDs. 4 episodes 94 minutes with extras) stars: Tom Baker, Bernard Horsfall, Eric Chitty, Peter Pratt and George Pravda.

check out website: www.bbcshop.com

The Doctor’s call back to Gallifrey gets a forewarning of the Time Lord President’s assassination. When the TARDIS arrives on the outskirts of the city, the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) has to evade troops determined to arrest him for the criminal he is before getting a free lift into the city. There, dressed in the Time Lords ceremonial garb, he gets embroiled in the plot and accused of the assassination attempt. He talks his way out of it temporarily by insisting he stand as a Presidential candidate, determined to find out why the assassination took place.



Discovering that the Master (actor Peter Pratt) is involved only comes when he has to mentally enter the Panatropic Computer Matrix to seek out his foe. Beyond that is real spoiler zone.

This story is the Doctor’s first return to Gallifrey since his enforced recall at the end of ‘The War Games’ and a lot of information is given about the Time Lords. This ranges from the number of regenerations they can have to proof that they can be completely killed. Then again, had the President regenerated there wouldn’t have been much of a story. It’s a shame that we only saw a little of their technology or it could just be an indication of how limited they are on their home planet. After all, time travel depends on them going somewhere and they aren’t while there. If anything, there is a demonstration of why the Doctor left them. The Time Lords bicker amongst themselves and don’t do anything much beyond that. No wonder they don’t seem to be doing very much.

The extras point at similarities to ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ but much of the plot owes itself to ‘The Most Dangerous Game’. If it had been made today, then it would probably be thought that it had borrowed from the film ‘The Matrix’, although that was decades into the future. In many respects, ‘The Deadly Assassin’ could be considered as one of the first, certainly on TV, uses of virtual reality.

The audio commentary between actors Tom Baker and Bernard Horsfall together with producer Philip Hitchcliffe covers not only the series, but discuss Tennant’s tenure at the time. One of the funniest subjects is Baker discussing how he was everyone’s friend because he was instantly recognisable as the Doctor and proved it by meeting a family once before the Saturday night show. Hitchcliffe couldn’t tell Horsfall when the Time Lords were introduced in the series and as this DVD is two years old now, I’m sure everyone he’s encountered now will have told him that it was ‘The War Games’, a story Horsfall himself appeared in the last episode as an unnamed Time Lord.

‘The Matrix Revisited’ covers the production of the story and its reaction. I think I ought to take Jan Vincent-Rudski to task though as to why the Time Lords were reluctant to regenerate as they aged on Gallifrey. One only has to look back at the Hartnell regeneration staying in that shape long after the time he should have regenerated. Once you do that, not only do you have a fresh body but also a re-orientated personality and you aren’t quite the same person that you were when you started out. If one Time Lord regenerates, then it’s likely the others might well follow suit. Added to that, if you can make the most of each regeneration then you will live a lot longer and, already indicated, the Time Lords were more concerned about preserving their culture than the affairs of other alien species. The Master squandered his regenerations. The Doctor was slowly using his regenerations up while his former teacher still apparently remained middle-aged.

I’m also at odds with ‘The Gallifreyan Candidate’ piece, mostly because comparisons of ‘The Deadly Assassin’ to Richard Condon’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ are superficial. The contributors highlight the most important factor about Condon’s lead character being brainwashed and yet no one was brainwashed in the ‘Doctor Who’ story. Even Goth, the Time Lord most likely to have been brainwashed, wasn’t. Not even hypnotised only the realisation that he wasn’t likely to be the new President elect. The Master found this a simple way to have an ally. The emphasis made about political manifestation was a minor sub-plot of the original book compared to the brainwashing.

‘The Scare Factor’ examines what makes ‘Doctor Who’ scary over the decades. Of course it’s an important ingredient. With any non-genre show, there are predictable elements. With ‘Who’, this can be exploited simply because young and adults alike can’t anticipate what will happen next. Well, other than in the early days that Daleks couldn’t climb stairs but then, that showed kids were thinking laterally, not such a bad thing to do.

‘The Deadly Assassin’ does actually move on the background of ‘Doctor Who’ in a significant way other than fill in details. It didn’t need to show them involved with other alien races as they have enough problems within their own society. No wonder the Doctor was happy to leave them to it.

GF Willmetts

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