Doctor Who
Four to Doomsday

Starring: Peter Davison
BBC Video
BBCV 7134
Certificate: PG
Available now

Bound for Heathrow Airport, the TARDIS instead materialises on board an alien spaceship, itself due to arrive at Earth in four days. The ship's peculiar population comprises frog-like alien Urbankans and human subjects apparently taken from the ancient cultures of Greece, China, South America and aboriginal Australia. But what are the aliens' plans for planet Earth?...

Although this was his second story to be transmitted on TV, Four to Doomsday was actually the first full Who serial that Peter Davison recorded. It is evident that the actor is still settling into the role, and he comes across as a bit too fatuous at times, but he succeeds in establishing himself as a more fallible Doctor than his larger-than-life predecessor, Tom Baker.

The principle guest star is Stratford (Z Cars) Johns, who turns in a watchable performance as Monarch, the Urbankans' paternalistic leader, although the concept of his monomaniacal threat to human life comes across rather better in the dialogue of the other characters than it does in Johns's blustering portrayal.

The cast also includes Burt Kwouk, best known as Cato in the Inspector Clouseau movies. He has recently worked alongside Davison again in the Big Finish audio drama Loups-Garoux and on the zany E4/Channel 4 gambling show, Banzai. (But can you guess what mark out of ten I will be giving this four-parter from 1982? Place your bets now!...)

This is a straightforward adventure, which is no bad thing in itself, although it is slow-moving at times. Writer Terence Dudley doesn't allow himself to get bogged down with complex scientific concepts (which is odd considering that this story was commissioned by script editor Christopher H. Bidmead). Only occasionally does a bit of dodgy science truly affect the enjoyment of the story, such as when Bigon (Philip Locke) describes a curious toxin that is somehow able to reduce a person to the size of a grain of salt. Even more curious is the fact that the Doctor has no qualms about releasing this toxin, but - lo and behold - it conveniently affects no one except his intended victim.

The script also includes a couple of unintentionally funny lines. Upon his first meeting with the Doctor, Monarch asks whether the Time Lord's visit to Earth is one of his regular "dropping times". Later on, when accused of meddling with Monarch's surveillance cameras, the Doctor protests, "I wouldn't dream of interfering with your monopticons"!

On certain occasions, though, the production surprises you with its more cleverly crafted elements. For instance, the fact that all the Mayan ethnic subjects are female, while the other human groups are exclusively male, communicates the subtle impression that something is amiss with the population of the Urbankan ship. The cliffhangers that conclude the first two instalments are also extremely effective.

These episodes might not be four to die for, but they're jolly good fun nonetheless.

Richard McGinlay

(If you guessed "6", then you are a winner!)

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