Doctor Who #546: State of Decay Part 1

"Oh, knowing's easy. Everyone does that ad nauseam. I just sort of hope."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Nov.22 1980.

IN THIS ONE... Adric stows away to a medieval planet ruled by vampires.

REVIEW: Bringing back an old Doctor Who writer does wonders for the show, it really does. Terrance Dicks not only gives us the kind of Gothic story the show was famous for in the mid-70s (thanks to Holmes, but he did his part with Horror of Fang Rock - in fact, State of Decay is what he had originally pitched for that slot), but the Time Lords, and even Adric, are allowed to be witty again. With a better script, the visuals don't have to do all the work, though they're quite effective too, give or take a fake beard or two. The planet of the vampires looks wet and dreary, the vampires have the look of old playing cards, and Aukon's control of bats is introduced without needless exposition, with a simple juxtaposition of images. Even Romana's costume is on point, looking for all the world like she's part of the Van Helsing family.

The theme of leaders lying to their people has been going on all season and continues here. The vampiric Lords are apparently repressing all knowledge and been cherry-picking people from a rather limited pool to "serve" them (like to be "served TO" them), and have spawned a literally underground resistance of technophiles. We also discover these are humans descended from an Earth ship that crashed long ago, while the Lords actually ARE long-lived members of that crew. Is it possible the Starliner from the previous serial was also from Earth (Terradon could be a deformation)? All human-types in E-Space could in fact come from ships who got lost in a CVE. Whatever the case may be, the scene is set. We have cruel Lords with a fearsome power, a rebel force in over its head but willing to receive the heroes help, and a crop of innocent victims, poor villagers kept in the dark ages, terrorized but with strong family values. The latter can be seen in the headman's wife who gives Adric shelter even after he tries to steal food from their inn. She's just lost a son to the Lords' appetites and is quick to generously take in another.

I remember this story as Adric's best. Ironically, it's his first in production order, so it's all downhill from there. Perhaps it's because he's closest to his initial "artful dodger" concept, a bit of rogue who fast-talks his way around K9's logic and the headman's interrogation. He's a little bit cocky, but his banter is kind of fun. It makes me believe he should have been a proper Outler in his first aired episode, instead of an "elite" at odds with them. I hate him as a math whiz, and here enjoy him as a rogue.  Alas... Of course, his stowing away is played as a surprise, and the Time Lords don't even know he followed them to this new world. Boy are they going to be surprised. Me, I'm surprised Adric asks for cheese. Just what did they milk on Alzarius?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Dicks shows the new guys how it's done in this smart and Gothic throwback to an earlier era.


Craig Oxbrow said...

Like playing cards indeed, but in the queen's case also like Siouxsie Sioux.

Siskoid said...

If only they'd switched out the vampires for banshees.


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