Doctor Who #597: Mawdryn Undead Part 1

"I don't fancy a non-stop mystery tour of the galaxy."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.1 1983.

IN THIS ONE... First appearance of Turlough. The Brigadier is teaching at his school, and the Black Guardian shows up with a dead bird on his head. Meanwhile, an empty spaceship and transmatty things happen.

REVIEW: If you don't like Turlough, tell yourself it could have been worse. Hippo might have become companion instead. Wow, what a whiner. But yes, that's a convoluted companion origin. Alien orphan enrolled in a human school where he's too smart for his own good, so all he does is get into trouble, and he's going to join the TARDIS crew because the Black Guardian has tasked him with killing the Doctor. Oh, and that school Turlough goes to? Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart teaches there. I guess they really needed Turlough to take things like the TARDIS and spaceships and Guardians as things he could easily accept, and that's why he's an alien, and they needed to put him in an Earth school uniform because JNT. Or rather, because in the program's 20th year, they're overtly going for a tribute to An Unearthly Child. Originally, the featured teacher would have been Ian Chesterton, and it's really too bad William Russell wasn't available to do it, because as much as I love seeing the Brig again, it's a real stretch for him to be in that position (not to mention what it does to the UNIT timeline). With all the elements mandated by production, this must've been one of those serials Eric Saward would go on to moan about. The script must have been as much his and Peter Grimwade's.

But it IS a Peter Grimwade script, so you should be on the look-out for nonsense science and plot holes big enough to drive a Concorde through. Strike that, a luxury spaceliner. The elements are interesting, at least. An empty ship that looks gorgeous inside. The Black Guardian back to plague the Doctor and likely recruiting Turlough because the boy's already an agent of chaos in his everyday life. The timey-wimey potential of setting the story in 1977 and 1983, with a malfunctioning transmat capsule ferrying people between the two eras. But Grimwadisms have already cropped up. The Guardian tells Turlough the Doctor is "evil", but then orders the boy to act "in the name of evil". It's the worst lie ever. Why not just insist on Turlough "owing him" for saving his life at the car crash instead? Good or evil, I bet even I'd finally kill the Doctor if I knew it would get Valentine Dyall from shouting at me every second of every day. And there's the ship's "orbit" that brings it close to Earth every 6 years... what is this thing? A comet? I have to admit, minor stuff compared to what's to come. I suppose my point is: Why order another script from Grimwade after Time-Flight?

The other event of note is that Nyssa finally gets into an outfit that makes it acceptable for fanboys to have a crush on her. Cute denim skirt actually matches her top and, oh my, is that cleavage on a Doctor Who companion? Nyssa's not quite a woman in story terms though. See how Tegan doesn't trust Turlough, but Nyssa, on the barest of evidence, thinks he's nice? She's still naive enough to think the best of people. Of course, she hasn't been recently possessed by the Mara, an event that has made Tegan more than a little bit jaded. The Doctor, of course, trusts Turlough immediately, because he's a big kid. Or he might not, and as he often does, plays along to discover what's really happening. And what of the Brig? He doesn't trust Turlough one bit, but is it strange he wouldn't believe Hippo about seeing an object dematerialize? Stay tuned, kids. It's about to get wonky.

VERSIONS: The CGI option on the DVD Does away with the disco effects in the Guardian's realm, replacing them with more pleasant and more organic fare. The model shot of the ship is given depth and movement, where before, it looked like a cardboard cut-out. A light warping effect is added to the T mat. Insert shots are also added so we can see some fun graphics on the arcade machine (still very 80s, which is a nice touch) and the transmat screen (to better tell the story). There is one effect that's completely unnecessary though, and that's the glow they put on the Turlough-Guardian communication device. It's about as cheesy as all the video effects they worked so hard to remove.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- The introduction of a new companion/villain and the return of some familiar faces puts us in a celebratory mood. I'd love it if it could pay off.

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