Doctor Who #548: State of Decay Part 3

"Rassilon ordered the construction of bow ships. Ah. Swift vessels that fired a mighty bold of steel that transfixed the monsters through the heart. For only if his heart be utterly destroyed will a vampire die."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.6 1980.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor talks about the old vampires legends of Gallifrey. Romana tries to spring Adric from the vamps' inner sanctum.

REVIEW: Admittedly, not much actually happens in this episode. The Time Lords are captured and escape, the technophile rebels continue to plot their Lords' downfall, and Romana finds Adric and gets jumped by the King and Queen. But incident merely takes a back seat to revelation. At the core of Part 3 is a story from long ago, told to the Doctor by the hermit in the mountains the third Doctor sometimes spoke about (nice bit of continuity from Dicks), about a war between the Time Lords of Rassilon's time and ancient vampires. It's something the writers of extracanonical stories - the Virgin novels especially - made quite a meal of, but who can blame them? The imagery is epic. Giant vampires who could suck entire planets dry. Time Lord bow ships that launched a immense steel spikes into their hearts. And a lone King who fled our dimension to take refuge in E-Space. These revelations are padded out over a number of scenes and have the Doctor running for the TARDIS (how old are Type-40s that Rassilon references them, or didn't he write his "Record"?), then to a magnetic card filing system, not to mention the initial scene in which Romana keeps interrupting the story. And yet, the simple poetry of the tale, Baker's voice and some quick editing to moments of action, keep us interested.

The program can't show us any of this, but the words are enough to raise the stakes considerably. The three vampires the heroes have been dealing with are powerful enough to temporarily mesmerize a Time Lord and possessed of great strength, and yet they are only servants of the Great One whose heartbeat can be heard through the ground. Worse, the ancient vampire king will soon awaken (it's why they're recruiting new servants like Adric) and plans to return them to N-Space to feed. So much time has passes, even the Time Lords might not be able to stop him this time, especially since their war seems to be the reason they've lost their taste for violence (not that the Doctor doesn't indulge in a stray punch from time to time as he does here).

I've praised Uncle Terry a lot over the past three reviews, but director Peter Moffatt is doing a good job too. There are several bits of business that simply enhance scenes. For example, the ritualistic movements of the vampires, dead people going through the motions of a former life. Their attack on Romana and Adric is right out of a silent film, but works in that context. I also like in how it took all this time for the Time Lords to realize they had a new companion. Yes, there's padding, but the information we (and the Time Lords) learn is worthy of getting its own framing episode.

- Dicks adds to Time Lord mythology considerably, without having us go to boring old Gallifrey.


Peder said...

Are you thinking of discussing the current episodes or are you waiting until you reach them in the progression of the project? I'm very curious to hear your thoughts on the recent half-season.

Siskoid said...

In order. I guess you'll just have to wait ;)

But basic impressions: I was a bit annoyed at the first half of the season because 1) I thought the Ponds had a beautiful ending at the end of S6 and 2) the scripts were very "kitchen sink", just throwing stuff at the screen, not much depth. That's fine for an episode like The Power of Three, but the entire half-season was like that.

In the second half, I really liked Clara and the variety offered by the scripts and references to past eras both in dialog and story style. The finale was squeerific for a long-time fan willing to accept the madness of it all, which I was.

Full comments and reevaluations in... early 2014 I guess.


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