Doctor Who #549: State of Decay Part 4

"You're on the menu. If it's a choice between that and joining the diners, I mean, there's no sense in two of us getting the chop."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.13 1980.

IN THIS ONE... Just before Romana is sacrificed to the Great One, the Doctor plunges an entire spaceship into the heart of the great vampire.

REVIEW: The story of this planet is one of patience. The vampires have spent a thousand years as "servants" in order to become the masters of N-Space, while the peasants have waited just as long for their freedom. The difference between them is that the peasants are willing to wait even longer, so the Doctor must intervene and give them K9 as a general so they can at least storm the battlements. It's just a diversion, of course. The real battle is waged by the Doctor flying part of the Tower (it's made up of three scout ships) right into the Great One's heart, so the staging of this is a little iffy. The script's demands may have been too much for the production team. The giant hand coming through the ground works well enough, but the vampire puppet flapping its wings on X-ray makes little sense and doesn't seem to be presenting its heart where the rocket is to fall. Getting actors to hit dramatic marks is one thing, but the episode is hit and miss when it comes to setting up some of its effects. Even in the bit where the vampires desiccate, there's one make-up transition that's just a little bit too cartoony.

Now that he's awake again, Adric proves to be a problematic character. For one thing, what does he know exactly? He's never heard the expression "what goes up must come down", but talks as if he's heard folk tales about vampires. Does Alzarius really have vampire legends? But mostly - and this is an observation based on my knowing what's ahead, having grown up on the Adric stories - it's his bluff about choosing power over friendship that irks me. It's the first time he's offered power, but not the last, and if this time he's trying to trick the bad guys, it won't always be so (Four to Doomsday comes to mind best). To me, Adric will always be a traitor, the weak member of the team too easy to manipulate or too eager to go against the Doctor. And when I really think about it, this more than the stiff acting is my reason to dislike him so much. Here, he's not actually betraying Romana, but his plan is extremely foolish and turns out to be completely ineffectual. When at the end the Doctor says he's returning him to the Starliner, it gave me hope, false hope. Of course, I know it won't happen.

Sadly, the script isn't as witty as it was in the previous installments, but that often happens in Parts 4, as the action takes over from the dialog. If State of Decay has been a throwback to the "gods are really aliens" stories of the Pertwee era and the Hammer Horror stylings of the Holmes era, the use of K9 here takes us only back to the just-completed Williams era. He's a miniature tank (that, for once, we see navigate the TARDIS door), finds his way to the vampire throne, and gets a mercifully brief scene in which Ivo apologizes to him for not wanting to follow his lead. Baker also puts a little of himself into the finale, going by a bunch of extras and giving each of them a nod. Other actors provide the best moments, I'm afraid. Emrys James (Aukon) is delightfully evil when he tells the panicking guard who fears his men will all be killed, "Then die!", and while Romana has little to do once she's mesmerized, I've rarely seen someone sell that kind of catatonia so well. She looks like a wax doll!

VERSIONS: I'm not aware of any significant differences between the Target novelization and the televised episode.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The quality drops in the final act with poorly-executed effects and I find myself irked both by Adric's uselessness and K9's useFULness. That only makes this episode the weakest of four parts, not a BAD episode by any means.

- Terrence Dicks delivers the kind of script that would have fitted quite well in the Holmes era, and after a few middling plots, it's refreshing to hear the Doctor's wit and even poetry, and see a plot unfold where all the pieces matter and fit.



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