Doctor Who #604: Terminus Part 4

"She'll die here." "Not easily, Tegan. Like you, I'm indestructible."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.23 1983.

IN THIS ONE... Nyssa leaves to help turn Terminus into a proper hospital.

REVIEW: If the viewer has never seen the story but knows Nyssa is leaving, Terminus offers three potential exit strategies. She might have died from the plague, though that would have been astoundingly dark after Adric's still fresh demise. She might have fallen for Olvir, the young man she can be seen incidentally straddling in nothing but her slip (cough, cough), which surely, is a fate worse than death. Or, and I'm glad they went this way, she might stay behind to put her considerable scientific skills to work helping the Lazars and even the drug-enslaved Vanir. The Doctor hasn't created a weapon here (in New Who's parlance), but a healer, someone who wants to work for the betterment of society. The program has been hinting at her departure for a while now, but it doesn't lessen the blow. Nyssa's last embrace with Tegan as the Doctor looks away, embarrassed by the show of emotion, is incredibly touching. The demure kiss on his cheek too. But I most love the moment preceding Nyssa's announcement, when she forces the Doctor to tell Tegan he's glad to see her. Who will keep the peace now? It's a simple line, but one that shows just how important Nyssa was to the TARDIS crew's dynamic. She was the glue that held them all together. It's the magic of the "final episode" that makes me grieve for a character I never really cared about.

Not to say the episode doesn't also showcase why Nyssa was never my favorite, because it does. She can be a brilliant scientist, that's not a problem, but when they give the character knowledge she shouldn't have, it does annoy me. For example, because we never see her cure or any conversation discussing its actual rate of success, it seems highly improbable she should jump to all the conclusions she does. Especially the bit about the Garm not being able to refine the process because of his enslavement. What happens when they haven't given him an express order? Just stands there? It just sounds like dialog meant to excuse the fact the Doctor has perhaps foolishly freed the creature used to cure the disease. And to think a lot of OLD information was repeated in Part 3. They might have cut some of that padding and added a little more of Nyssa interacting with the Garm instead, which would have made that part of the climax smoother. At least the Vanir get to depose their leader by using his own promise against him, and thus take the first step towards a new society, so that's a set-up well paid off.

It's hard to say the same for the rest of the elements, however. The raiders never really amount to anything and have barely an arc to traverse between them. I haven't mentioned the poor surgical drone yet, because its presence is pretty pointless. The end of the universe is averted as it so often is, by the flipping of a giant switch, which seems the only reason the Garm actually exists. I mean, what kind of operation is the Company running here if its employees (ok, slaves) can't actually administer the radiation treatment even though they all wear anti-radiation armor? The story needed a giant creature to help the Doctor pull a lever, and so. Perhaps most damning of the script, if most Lazars survive the treatment, why are none of them ever heard from again? Where do they go? And of course, we have to suffer through more of the Black Guardian's growling. I hope that's a promise when he says he "won't say it again" (it being "Kill the Doctor!"). Ugh. Dude, if you didn't knock Turlough for talking back, maybe he would have accomplished something by now. Can't wait for the arc to be over.

VERSIONS: The CGI option, in addition to its usual tricks, includes a number of cutaways to Terminus' engines which aren't in the original broadcast. Their power up/down animation makes them useful indicators of what's going on. One shot of the liner powering up ITS engines has been oddly replaced by a shot of Terminus, which stands out as a new flaw. The Target novelization is more explicit about Terminus' origins and downplays the Black Guardian's role. Still, Turlough is characterized as a cold-blooded would-be killer who even thinks of offing Tegan(!).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Watch it for Nyssa's affecting farewell, but I'm afraid the climax kind of falls apart.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Better than the sum of its parts, the padding goes by quickly as we head inexorably for Nyssa's goodbyes.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Nyssa's departure was the most affecting, and it even hit me hard as an adolescent. She's the companion I most wanted a future story to "check up on".


Siskoid said...

The Big Finish audios have covered that quite well, with an older Nyssa appearing more than once and at some stage even traveling with the Doctor again.

Mitchell Craig said...

Not only is Nyssa's departure affecting, it's also one of the few times in Classic Who when a companion (Romana being the other that comes to mind) isn't just dumped off in the middle of Wherethef***arewe, married off, or killed off.

One of my online buddies wrote a follow-up story in which Nyssa is not only running a proper Terminus Medical Center, but is also married with a daughter of her own. She also appears in Rich Morris' The Ten Doctors, which you can find at Rich's ComixBlog (

Tommy Krasker said...

It's so nice to read your fresh perspective on "Terminus," and to see the final "Medium-High" rating. It's one of my favorite Davison serials, but boy, it's a serial so many people just seem to hate: "the rotten one between Mawdryn and Enlightenment." I don't know why it's so despised. It's almost like, because it's famed for being a troubled shoot, people presume the results must be bad. Or people just don't like "bleak." I have nothing against "bleak." For me, "Terminus" paints a very effective picture of a broken, corrupt system; it's thematically a sound script with -- as you note -- some effective characters, and because of that, it's easy to overlook all the dumb stuff: the patchwork dog, Nyssa's striptease, the puny robot. It is, as you say, better than the sum of its parts.

Siskoid said...

It's far from perfect, but I'd still watch it over the confused Mawdryn Undead.


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