Image Description: A vampire bat
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, State of Decay…
Finally, we come to a story in the “Road to the Dark Times” collection with a genuine, solid link to the events of Time Lord Victorious! State of Decay introduces Vampires (with a capital V) to the Doctor Who universe, an evil and ancient blood-harvesting race who have been thought extinct since they were totally destroyed by the early Gallifreyans. And in Time Lord Victorious, we get to go back and see this conflict unfold in comic adventure Monstrous Beauty, with Vampires also featuring prominently in novel All Flesh Is Grass. Sensibly, these adventures add a lot more nuance to the situation sketched out in State of Decay, revealing that not all the Vampires were as terrible as Gallifreyan legend may suggest…
State of Decay is famously the product of a stylistic clash between writer Terrance Dicks and script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, with Dicks hoping to create spooky, gothic ambience while Bidmead was keen to ground the story in a more scientifically. This tension works wonders for the adventure, creating a piece with a heavy atmosphere and strong design elements, but also neat science fiction concepts and progressive theming.
Our main villains are the Three Who Rule, consisting of the regal couple Zargo and Camilla along with their advisor Aukon, who have imposed a strict hierarchy of control upon the small village surrounding their castle. But they too are not quite at the top of the pyramid, answering to the dormant Great Vampire that lies beneath the ground. We see similar command structures among the Vampires of the Dark Times, with a trio of sisters commanding soldiers and a worker underclass in the Monstrous Beauty comic, and Lady Ikkala strictly adhering to aristocratic traditions in All Flesh is Grass. In this story, the Three Who Rule are consistently iconic, with just enough theatricality and deliberation to their movements to skirt on the edge of ridiculousness without toppling over it.
There are lots of nice little details that flesh out the world of this story, while not being essential to the current plot, which help to make the setting come alive. In one scene, Zargo and Camilla angrily discuss the supernatural powers that Aukon has not yet shared with them, despite earlier assurances. While absolutely unrelated to the ongoing events, this snippet, hinting at the inner life of our villains, makes them so much more real. Similarly, an early moment when Adric experiences the drudgery of the humans in the village lends some key perspective to their lives.
In one early scene, however, this approach backfires slightly, as the Doctor and Romana learn that the human villagers rely on the Vampires to protect them from ‘The Wasting’. While this sounds good and sinister, it never really gets explained and is left feeling like a remnant from an earlier script draft.
The Doctor and Romana are on top form throughout, spending the majority of the story as an efficient double-act, and seeming totally delighted with each other’s company. Meanwhile, Adric is also here! Having stowed away onboard the TARDIS from the previous story, for most of the runtime the two Time Lords have no clue he’s anywhere nearby, but the script uses his ambiguous status to its advantage by having him be selected by Aukon to become a new Vampire. When Romana finds him unconscious in the Vampire’s inner sanctum, dressed in ornate finery, it seems perfectly possible that he may have been turned, and later, when Adric looks set to betray our heroes, there’s a sense that he might genuinely do it because we’re not sure yet if he’s a proper companion. It’s a clever use of the character that could only really be convincing so early in his run.
This is yet another story that I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to re-watch, and I think the fact that the Vampires it introduces have come back again and again in the extended universe of Doctor Who speaks to this tale’s quality. Tying the villains into Gallifreyan history is such a simple, effective way to quickly establish high stakes, and Time Lord Victorious has done an excellent job diving into that history and creating avenues for even more adventures in the future.