Doctor Who #440: The Deadly Assassin Part 3

"I deny this reality. The reality is a computation matrix."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.13 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Goth fight in the Matrix.

REVIEW: Occurring almost entirely in the virtual reality of the Matrix, this probably remains the episode with the least amount of dialog in the canon. And according to the few times we pop out of there to see how Spandrell and Elgin are doing (or the Master), it basically takes place inside of 4 minutes, our time. Talk about the speed of thought! By moving the action through dissolves, the director confounds our sense of time. The Deadly Assassin keeps breaking the mold. First there's no companion to whom things can be explained (so Time Lords seem to have rather large gaps in their knowledge, but they're nothing if not specialists with a narrow focus, so I can believe it), and now the verbose Doctor has literally no one to talk to for an entire episode. Does it still work? Yes, but I do confess it's a weaker episode for it.

Thankfully, we have David Maloney directing, so the visuals are no problem. The mindscape is lush, actions are well thought-out and require little or no dialog, creepy images crop up like the clown in the mirrored ground, and in the real world, the camera dares dolly down from the Citadel to the Master's underground hideout in a single move. However, the discontinuity between events in the Matrix, while a conscious effect, does break up the narrative into discreet moments of padding. The Doctor falls off a cliff, steps into a gross egg, is chased by a biplane, and while nightmarish and well-executed, you could just as easily skip over all of that without missing anything from the story. It literally IS 4 minutes of plot stretched to 25 minutes, in that sense. But once the Doctor stops trying to disbelieve the illusion and Goth starts hunting him, things get more interesting. The narrative becomes continuous again and the tension mounts. The Doctor creates traps and avoids Goth's, and makes a blowgun from available materials. It's quite satisfying to see the Doctor triumph using his scientific know-how and wits, but none of the usual technobabble and gadgets. It all ends in a fist fight, which is perhaps unfortunate, and that infamous freeze frame of him being held under water, a shot that somehow attracted the ire of vocal censor Mary Whitehouse. Her contention that the Doctor was held in a state of potential death for an entire week is bizarre when narratively, a fade to black would have related more closely with his death. This is a pause, not sustained agony. She latched on to this in a story where the Doctor gets two bullets in him, leaves a grenade as a booby trap and sets a man on fire with marsh gas... Whatever. Let's get back to the story itself...

Goth is revealed as the mind the Doctor's been fighting - that's one cutthroat electoral campaign - but I'm not sure it's a surprise to anyone but the Doctor. Even if you didn't spot Bernard Horsfall's voice or face behind the hunter's mask, there's still only one character who seems at all interested in the Doctor's demise. Now that his personal bodyguard just tried to kill the Doctor in front of Spandrell, surely the jig is up! Of course, the Master is the real threat, and here Peter Pratt finally gives us a hint of Roger Delgado in his performance. The tremulous way he says the guard to obeyyyy him is very Masterish. Of course, since this is the shortest episode ever (in real time that is), we don't get very much of this. So it's time to get out of the Matrix already.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The various set pieces are well done, but they're really keeping us from the crux of the plot, aren't they?


snell said...

The Doctor constructing weapons in the Matrix vs Kirk constructing weapons on the Arena planet. Discuss.

Goth vs. Gorn. Discuss.

Siskoid said...

Suspiciously close names...

I think the Doctor's blowgun is more realistic than Kirk's bamboo cannon, but then Who always did share a strand of DNA with Blue Peter. How many kids went out and made their own after this episode?

Anonymous said...

Goth: in lands that claim Roman heritage (and Britain certainly does), Goths are the despoilers of civilization when it has fallen on hard times. So if Gallifreyans take on symbolic names, we can assume Barry the Gallifreyan picked "Goth" because of his desire to undermine his civilization, and not because he hangs out with people who dress like corpses. Oh wait.


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