Doctor Who #598: Mawdryn Undead Part 2

"I know how many beans make five, Doctor, and you don't have to be a Time Lord to cope with A level maths."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.2 1983.

IN THIS ONE... Our heroes are separated between 1977 and 1983, but both groups meet a version of the Brigadier. The girls think Mawdryn is the regenerating Doctor.

REVIEW: It's very strange how a serial so obsessed with continuity, gets so much of it wrong. It's not just the suspect UNIT dating, but Tegan moaning about transmats as if she were Dr. McCoy even though she's never seen such a thing before, so far as we know. The Brig is aghast the Doctor would mention the UNIT in front of people because it's a super-secret organization, so he must have blocked out all the press conferences he gave. The episode's not even consistent with this; he has a picture of himself in uniform, UNIT badge and all, in his living quarters. And I cringe every time someone like Tegan has dialog like "we're in the wrong time zone" as if that was a perfectly natural turn of phrase for a 20th-century human. It's not. Throw in the companions jumping to the conclusion that David Collings (Mawdryn) must be a crispy-fried Doctor despite looking nothing like him, not even his clothes, and you've got an episode filled with distracting (and avoidable!) nits to pick.

It's too bad too, because there's a lot to like otherwise. The way the Brigadier recalls meeting Tegan 6 years before while we're shown those events concurrently is the first perfect piece of "timey-wimey" storytelling the program's given us, and the design team even ages the Brig's cottage and surrounding foliage. Teasing us about the final fates of the UNIT crew is fun, though even Benton becoming a used car salesman can't be as sad as the Brig having a "nervous breakdown" after retiring to a boys' school (if at least it were a military academy!). It's generally lovely to see the old Brig interact with the regulars, in whatever time zone, and the mystery of his mental block is intriguing. Sadly, Nyssa is once again left babysitting the TARDIS, though this time there IS something happening there. Still, she misses out on getting whistled at by boys, and on the Brigadier's brandy.

As for Turlough, let me come right out and say it - I don't dislike the guy. Selfish, yes. Too smooth a liar, of course. But look, as the creepy visit from his headmaster/the Black Guardian in his dreams amply demonstrates, he's in an impossible situation. There's a god-like entity haunting him and trying to make him commit murder, which he makes obvious is NOT something he would normally do, no matter his faults. He's no worse than Tegan possessed by the Mara, and is in fact better because we see him actively struggle with the evil within. By the end of this episode, he's no longer trying to do the Guardian's bidding because it might get him home, but because he's been terrorized into it.

VERSIONS: The DVD's CGI option puts its usual shimmer on the Black Guardian's comings and goings, but most unusually, the Brig's memories are represented by an entirely different set of clips - better chosen and more varied to be sure!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I keep wanting to give these episodes a lower score, because the plot holes really do bug me, but damn it, the Brig and company charm the pants off me. But I feel like the appearance of a pulsing brain is going to make things go pear-shaped fairly soon.


Anonymous said...

Gonna say it, all these Turlough stories leave me unsatisfied because they make the Black Guardian look bad. It's a pet peeve of mine that evil is too often portrayed as repellent, which is exactly NOT the problem with evil.

If I were doing a TV show about the importance of good nutrition and the villain were an avatar of junk food, I'd have him take the form of pizza, not a moldy bucket of sour cream with a dead rat in it.

I realize this is just a kids' show -- okay, more of a teenagers' show with the two hotties -- but come on, at least make the Black Guardian competent at his job. Have him give Turlough some reason to think the convenient thing is also justifiable, indeed, the only responsible course of action.

That said, I love me some Turlough. In and of himself, he rocks out loud.

Siskoid said...

I agree with that. The BG is so over-the-top evil, he makes a poor Satan, having none of the seductive powers required.

And his dialog, yeeech. "You must witness the Doctor's nemesis!" What the hell does that even mean?

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I just thought of a fun way the Black Guardian could pit Turlough against the Doctor: tell him that he had a brother named Adric who had been living in N-space for his own protection, and the Doctor got him killed. Now it was all an accident and so forth, but nonetheless Turlough has a responsibility to avenge his brother's death.

This is all a big fake-out on the Black Guardian's part, of course, but gotta love the continuity. And the story would withstand scrutiny pretty well.

Siskoid said...

All you need to do is reveal at some point that Turlough and his people have a healing factor too.

They're definitely cut from the same cloth.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you've mentioned this, but I love the incidental music in this story. It's one of the few Doctor Who scores I actively noticed and remember well.


Siskoid said...

Agreed, it's one of the better soundtracks of the 80s.


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