Image Description: Time Lord Ceremonial outfits
In a jaunt away from new TLV content, John Salway takes a look at the stories featured on the Road to the Dark Times Blu-Ray, and their place in TLV canon. This time, The Deadly Assassin…
“Yes, because there are laws. There are Laws of Time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws, but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me!”
The Time Lord Victorious may be the last of his kind standing, but what was the great society of Time Lords like in its heyday? The Deadly Assassin provides our first proper look at life on Gallifrey, as the Fourth Doctor is urgently recalled for a presidential resignation ceremony that he foresees ending in a bang…
Part One gets the story off to a tremendous start, and is one of the best single episodes of Classic Who. Robert Holmes’ script is fast-moving, full of mystery, and doesn’t talk down to the audience, allowing them the opportunity to piece together what’s happening on their own without having everything explained to them. It also delights in stretching the usual format, with an epic pre-Star Wars scrolling text intro, and frequent cuts to the Doctor’s disorienting premonition of future events.
Gallifrey is presented as a world of pomp and circumstance, and generally in line with the brief glimpses of Time Lord society viewers may have previously seen in The War Games and The Three Doctors. Time Lords are divided into houses and colour-coded ranks, and everybody’s a fusty old man (or in the case of Runcible the Fatuous, a fusty old man in the making). We understand immediately why the Doctor would be an outcast on such a world, and why he would choose to leave it himself, which is helpful given the canon explanation for his having left has frequently changed!
From the closing scenes of Part Two through to the start of Part Four, we spend most of our time inside the Matrix as the Doctor tracks down a shadowy foe, for a big chunk of location filming that I’m in two minds about. On the one hand, these duel-to-the-death sequences are beautifully directed, and it’s a rare thrill to see the Fourth Doctor properly engaged in a life-and-death struggle. On the other hand, these scenes do little to move the plot forward and take up a large chunk of the story for what could be promptly sorted out in ten minutes.
The final episode, which takes us back to the real world, is sadly not quite up to scratch with the first half. The story becomes fascinated with various articles of Rassilon that had hitherto been undiscussed, and culminates in a fairly unsatisfying tussle with the Master amidst references to the ‘Old Time’ (e.g, the Dark Times of TLV). It’s a very pedestrian and disappointing climax to a story that, until this point, has been pushing the format and trying new things.
Despite having my reservations about its second half, on the whole The Deadly Assassin is a really riveting watch, and one that seemed to fly by extremely quickly. While it does demystify the Doctor’s origins to a certain extent, it leaves plenty of room for expansion in the future, with ideas like the Matrix and the history of Rassilon providing the basis for many subsequent stories. Not only is it an important point in Doctor Who history, it is also a highly enjoyable one.