Full Circle (Doctor Who)

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111[1]Full Circle
Doctor Who serial
  • Leonard Maguire – Draith
  • James Bree – Nefred
  • Alan Rowe – Garif
  • George Baker – Login
  • Tony Calvin – Dexeter
  • Richard Willis – Varsh
  • June Page – Keara
  • Bernard Padden – Tylos
  • Andrew Forbes – Omril
  • Adrian Gibbs – Rysik
  • Barney Lawrence – Marshman
  • Norman Bacon – Marshchild
Directed byPeter Grimwade
Written byAndrew Smith
Script editorChristopher H. Bidmead
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s)Barry Letts
Incidental music composerPaddy Kingsland
Production code5R
SeriesSeason 18
Running time4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast25 October – 15 November 1980
← Preceded by
Followed by →
State of Decay
List of Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

Full Circle is the third serial of the 18th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 25 October to 15 November 1980.

The serial involves the alien time traveller the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) discovering the life cycle of three closely related species on the planet Alzarius—the humanoid Alzarians, the Marshmen, and the Marshspiders—coming "full circle". Full Circle is the first of three loosely connected serials set in another universe to the Doctor's own known as E-Space and introduces Matthew Waterhouse as the companion Adric.


En route to Gallifrey to return Romana to the High Council of Time Lords, the TARDIS passes through a strange phenomenon and ends up in an alternative universe called E-Space. Neither the Fourth Doctor nor Romana herself can calculate why the TARDIS scanner shows images of their planet when they have arrived in a verdant forest. It later emerges they have journeyed to this pocket universe through a rare space/time phenomenon known as a Charged Vacuum Emboitment.

Nearby is a small but sustainable civilisation of humanoids who live between a river and a grounded spaceship called the Starliner. They came to the planet, Alzarius, from Terradon and much of the focus of society is on repairing their craft to make it navigable. It is an oligarchy ruled by three self-selecting senior colonists known as Deciders, who ensure the smooth running and order of their adopted world and lay particular store on technical ability. One of the brightest of the younger colonists is Adric, who bears a Badge of Mathematical Excellence in recognition of his computational skills. However, his brother Varsh has rejected the regimented society of the Starliner and leads a band of rebels called Outlers, who steal harvested riverfruit and other foods to survive.

All is not well in the colony. Strange eggs have started to appear in the riverfruit, and this is interpreted by First Decider Draith, using the System File of the Starliner, as an omen of Mistfall, a strange periodic change to the planet during which the natural balance of society is threatened. Soon Mistfall begins, and the colonists move into the Starliner to protect themselves. Adric attempts to steal some riverfruit to prove himself to his brother; Draith gives chase to his young protégé but falls and lands in the river – only to be dragged beneath the waves by a strange force. His last words are aimed at the chief scientists of the colony: "Tell Dexeter we've come full circle!" Adric heads into the forest in panic, finding the TARDIS. The Doctor and Romana take him in and tend to his leg wound, which recovers remarkably quickly. The Doctor heads off to investigate the planet, while Adric attracts Varsh and the other Outlers to the protection of the TARDIS.

The other Deciders, Garif and Nefred, have ordered the Starliner doors closed as per procedure, knowing that both Draith and Keara, an Outler and the daughter of a prominent citizen called Login, have not entered the ship. Despite his worries, Login accepts a position as Third Decider when it is determined that Draith has died. It is as well the doors have been closed – humanoid, aggressive Marshmen begin to appear from underwater, looking threatening, and scuttling Marshspiders hatch from the eggs of the Riverfruit. The Marshmen beat on the walls of the Starliner to gain entry but the creatures are not admitted. The Doctor, however, gains entry to the Starliner using his sonic screwdriver, followed by a young and inquisitive Marshchild. Both are found and taken before the Three Deciders. The Doctor is appalled when chief scientist Dexeter starts to perform vivisection experiments on the Marshchild.

A group of Marshmen have carried the TARDIS to a cave, intending to use it as a battering ram to force their way into the Starliner. Romana decides to venture outside. She is bitten by a Marshspider and starts to change, seeming possessed. Adric panics and materialises the TARDIS inside the Starliner. When the Outlers emerge, the Doctor pilots the TARDIS back to the cave, and finds an alert but amnesiac Romana. The Doctor scoops up the remains of a Marshspider and then reverses his journey once more with Adric and an unconscious Romana in tow. By the time he is back in the Starliner, however, Dexeter has tried to examine the brain of the Marshchild, provoking it to attack and kill him and itself. The Doctor is furious, turning on the Deciders and denounces their society – revealing secret ship controls that show the Starliner has been ready to pilot from Alzarius for centuries, but the farce of constant repair continued. The problem is that, though the Deciders understand the technical construction of the ship, no one knows how to pilot it.

The Doctor persuades the Deciders to give him equipment to examine the cells of the Marshspider and marshchild and deduces that they are from identical DNA sources. The situation is complicated, however, when a transformed Romana releases the emergency exits and allows the Marshmen to invade the Starliner. The colonists retreat before the creatures, many of whom are more inquisitive than dangerous. Nefred is mortally wounded while fleeing; his last admission is that the colonists cannot return to Terradon, because they have never been there. It is realised that the present-day Alzarians are actually a subspecies of the Marshmen, who wiped out the Starliner's original Terradonian crew and then gradually evolved into human form to take their place.

The Doctor uses a protein serum to cure Romana, and they determine from research in the ship's science unit that the ship has been maintained for 40,000 generations by a species that has three aspects; spiders, Marshmen, and the current humanoids. They are all from the same DNA and thus have come "full circle". This is the real secret of the System Files.

It is accidentally deduced that oxygen in pure form is problematic to the Marshmen, and this non-lethal defence is used to force the Marshmen out of the Starliner. During their retreat, Varsh is killed, leaving Adric in emotional turmoil. With the Marshmen returning to the swamps, the boy stows away on board the TARDIS. Meanwhile, his fellow colonists pilot the craft away from Alzarius. The Doctor, Romana and K-9 are unaware of Adric's presence as they leave the planet.


EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [2]
1"Part One"24:2325 October 1980 (1980-10-25)5.9
2"Part Two"22:111 November 1980 (1980-11-01)3.7
3"Part Three"22:008 November 1980 (1980-11-08)5.9
4"Part Four"24:1615 November 1980 (1980-11-15)5.5

The story was repeated on BBC1 (except BBC1 Wales) across four consecutive evenings from Monday to Thursday, 3–6 August 1981, achieving viewing figures of 4.9, 4.2, 4.6 and 6.4 million viewers respectively.[3]

Working titles for this story included The Planet That Slept.[4] At the time of writing this story, Andrew Smith was a seventeen-year-old who achieved his lifelong ambition to write for the show.[5]

The exterior locations for Alzarius were filmed at Black Park in Buckinghamshire.[6]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Full Circle
Doctor Who Full Circle.jpg
AuthorAndrew Smith
Cover artistAndrew Skilleter
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
16 September 1982

A novelisation of this serial, written by Andrew Smith, was published by Target Books in September 1982. The novelisation opens with the Starliner crashing on Alzarius. An audiobook of the Target novelisation was released on 29 January 2015 read by Matthew Waterhouse and John Leeson.

Home media[edit]

Full Circle was released on VHS in October 1997. The DVD was released in January 2009 as part of a boxed set called The E-Space Trilogy. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files (issue 85) in April 2012. Paddy Kingsland's incidental music for the serial was released as part of the compilation album Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 4: Meglos & Full Circle in 2002. In 2019, the story was released on Blu-ray as part of the Doctor Who Collection Season 18 box set.

Academic Studies[edit]

A book on the serial, written by New Zealand academic John Toon, was released by Obverse Books in January 2018 as part of its Black Archive series.[7] It won the Sir Julius Vogel Award in the category of Best Professional Production/Publication in 2019.[8]


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this as story number 112. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  3. ^ doctorwhonews.net. "Doctor Who Guide: broadcasting for Full Circle".
  4. ^ Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1992). Doctor Who The Handbook – The Fourth Doctor. London: Doctor Who Books. p. 133. ISBN 0-426-20369-0.
  5. ^ Smith, Kenny (18 October 2014). "Meet the Scot who wrote hit episodes of Doctor Who".
  6. ^ Howe, Stammers & Walker 1992, p. 228
  7. ^ "15. Full Circle | Obverse Books".
  8. ^ "SJV Award Finalists 2019". Sffanz.org.nz. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2019.

External links[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]