Four To Doomsday

Written by:
Terence Dudley
Directed by: John Black
Starring: Peter Davison
Year: 1982
Video Availability: Try

Eh? What the f***? Burt Kwouk guest-stars as a Chinese robot set to repopulate the Earth, while a giant frog chummies up with Adric and tries to travel back in time before the big bang to meet himself as God? By anyone's standards that's a crap plot, but I hold no hate in my heart for this one, despite its general unpopularity with fans. Okay, it gets less appealing each time you see it because it's about… well… nothing at all, but it's commendably well made and even the companions aren't too annoying.

The likeable soundtrack has the air of familiarity due to being on one of those Music compilations, though I'd forgotten how ropey the CSO on the spacecraft is. And I'm watching this on a third generation copy from an Australian transmission so it must look even worse officially. "Ah, we've stopped. We're there Nyssa. Get the Doctor, will you?" "Yes." - the most inept scene in Who history? Actually, forget the first paragraph of this review - I always write these reviews as I go along, so contradicting myself isn't a big deal. But just who was I trying to kid? I'm less than two minutes in (including titles) and already I'm irritated. Famously it's Davison's first recorded story to give him time to settle in. His hair is short, while his voice is so much higher than usual it's as if he got kicked in the nuts by mistake after someone was taking a swing at the below-amateurish Waterhouse. (And as this is the last Adric episode I've come to review, then I'm amazed I've gone the whole lot without slipping in a feeble "Shitehouse" gag somewhere along the line). What really irritates though is Pete's "I'm the Doctor so I'd better pretend to be wacky" musings. He ain't got a clue what he's doing, and while I do like his Doctor, the majority of his stories were mediocre at best, and he had the worst companions in history. Well, apart from Colin. And Sylvester. And McGann…

Oh God, I might f*** this one off, actually, it's frickin' diabolical! Sarah Sutton just cannot f***ing act to save her life, and having three of the twits standing around talking shite at one another is too much to bear. Peter looks a right fanny in that helmet of his, though on the positive side that Monopticon is quite well realised. (Though again, I am looking at it on a dodgy copy and it never changes in size). The use of set alteration to make the spacecraft look huge inside is thoroughly commendable, but there's a 65 second three-way Tardis scene between Adric, Tegan and Nyssa that's supposed to amuse. Follow this up by a later Adric/Nyssa two-way and it's… oh, f*** it! I've had to pause the f***er here, I just can't take it! We get a scene where Tegan (despite having it explained to her in very simple terms already) moans at the Doctor "You've lost me my job!" This in the place of character development? YOU'RE IN A TIME MACHINE YOU STUPID BITCH! Oh, Christ, I just really haven't got time for any of this shit! I do worry when I review early Tegan episodes that I may come over as misogynistic, because I'm calling her "bitch" this, and "tart" that, but I can hardly call her a wanker, can I? Gender-orientated swearing, that's what it's all about. When the Doctor tells her to be patient about Heathrow (he's not the only one who wishes she'd stop going on about it) she utters "men!" in a nod to feminism. Janet has been notably vocal about sexism in Who, but if this was her way of expressing that, then it falls flat. In fact, after watching Tegan whining incessantly about equality it makes you want to make them do your ironing quicker, just to spite her. Talking of wankers, it's odd that Tegan's surname and the planet the aliens come from both rhyme with this word.

Where is Davison's back-up? If The Drunk got drunk, he'd always have Louise Jameson to carry him. Billy had Ian and Barbara. But this would perhaps be quite a nice story were it not for the atrocious "acting" of his crewmates. In fact, were it not for them I'd give this one average marks. It seems silly to get so worked up over something that was made over 22 years ago, but it makes me angry to think they employed people who simply cannot act to perform as leads in a once-credible series. Say what you like about 80s Who, apart from one or two notable highs (the schoolyard loved Earthshock), the street appreciation of Doctor from around this point on was virtually non-existent. It got worse, of course, but when Four To Doomsday was being broadcast we were only seven years away from the axe. With hindsight, it was perhaps inevitable.
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Stratford Johns is very good in his guest role, incidentally, though when it comes down to it Monarch fails to present much of a threat. No, I'm gone. I was quite tired anyway, but I can't find any more bile in me. Either it's got less offensive or my grip on consciousness is being wrestled from me by this tat. Decent direction by John Black, though, making nice use of the above-average sets.

"I understand bioengineering, but I'm also an expert in cybernetics." Shut the f*** up! She reminds me of that snotty girl in my class at middle school, who would never let anyone borrow her coloured pencils with her own name printed on them. She always used to stick her nose up, telling me how wealthy her parents were and laughing at the fact that I only got 50p a week pocket money. You know what happened to her? Ended up getting 'em out for The Sunday Sport. So who had the last laugh in the end, eh? Eh? Sorry, sometimes the pain still runs deep, and there's little as painful as Four To Doomsday. I just don't give a f***!
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Did they get a real android for that bit where Philip Locke lifts off his face? The effect used to achieve it was seamless. Anyway, let's let Bigons be Bigons, because there's so much shite in this one it's difficult to know where to start. Didn't Dudley realise a Doctor Who story was traditionally about something? It's only four episodes long, but he fills the last three episodes with time-filling dance sequences, and that's not to mention the totally irrelevant "photo-synthesis" scene with Adric and Nyssa in part two.

I've always thought season 21 was overrated, but it's stories like this that make me think maybe season 20 was Davison's greatest season. Okay, it contains nothing to rival Kinda or Androzani and is bookended by cack, but there's a general pound-for-pound sturdiness and ambition that makes it leagues ahead of stuff like The Visitation, Time-Flight, Black Orchid, and, of course, this story. It's this episode where Adric feigns admiration of Monarch in order to trick him… except he isn't feigning, he's supposed to be genuinely in awe, and it's just Waterhouse's stagy delivery that makes you think otherwise. To be fair, Monarch does get some very good lines in this episode, commenting on the problems of Earth with some eloquence and without being heavy-handed. It's this element that manages to push up the rating of the episode:
* * ˝

Some might get a bit of camp fun from this story, such as Adric being duffed up by Tegan, or Kwouk looking at Nyssa in an old shower unit and remarking "two minutes" as if she's an oven-ready chicken almost ready to serve. Generally it's cack, though, its plot twists only surprising the first one or two times. By this criteria I did used to quite enjoy it, but once you know what to expect there's very little to savour in terms of fun ideas, strong performances and memorable dialogue.

In later years (particularly since the end of the series, and fan writers became more prominent) there's been a strong shift towards the Doctor as liberal with a capital "L". But this has often been in doubt within the series, with a Doctor that shouts "Welsh imbecile!" in The Web of Fear and generally obliterates alien opposition. Four To Doomsday is a case in point, with much of its "humour" being drawn from the Doctor making jokes about "The Other". (One for you Kaplan fans there, just to counterbalance all the swearing that's made up this review so far). In the first episode we get "I am Lin Futu." "Well I'd never have guessed it, you look in the best of health to me." Though here we get the Doctor, almost as if he's in an episode of Mind Your Language, boasting about "bowling a mean Chinaman" and then double taking at Kwouk's henchman.

Freudians might like to make something of the feminisation of the fifth Doctor or the sexual attraction between him and Nyssa as in episode three (the remark didn't fit in, which is why I'm saying it now, sorry) she borrows first his sonic screwdriver, then his pencil. But I'm grabbing at straws here to make something out of the story. Incidentally, for those people who get their kicks out of slagging off Eric Saward (and I'm one of them) then this was one of the last ones to go under the script editor's pen of Antony Root. Yes, Saward made it into a tacky shoot-em-up, but did the show really fall that much farther than this?

There's more dancing, Peter in front of a backdrop pretending to bowl a ball in space, Monarch getting shrunk and Kwouk, Locke, Pedro and Hammam grinning at each other like twats. Tegan uses her microscopic frame of reference to make another unfunny plane terminal gag (why doesn't she just shag an aeroplane if she likes them that much?) and Nyssa faints. Me? I just couldn't care less.
* ˝

I used to rate season 19 very highly, but a glut of nondescript, directionless stories and dire actors as the companions sees its good stories (Kinda, and, in a shallow way, Earthshock) stand out as exceptions rather than the norm. Four To Doomsday very much fits the norm of season 19, and is generally quite wretched. Sorry.
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