Mawdryn Undead

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125[1]Mawdryn Undead
Doctor Who serial
Mawdryn Undead.jpg
Mawdryn masquerades as a regenerated Doctor
Directed by Peter Moffatt
Written by Peter Grimwade
Script editor Eric Saward
Produced by John Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Paddy Kingsland
Production code 6F
Series Season 20
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 1 February–9 February 1983
← Preceded by Followed by →
Snakedance Terminus
List of Doctor Who serials

Mawdryn Undead is the third serial of the 20th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was originally broadcast in four twice weekly parts from 1 February to 9 February 1983. The serial was the first of three loosely connected serials known as the Black Guardian Trilogy, and introduced Mark Strickson as a new companion, Vislor Turlough, as well as reintroducing Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The character had not been seen on the series since the Fourth Doctor serial Terror of the Zygons almost eight years earlier.


In 1983, Turlough, a stranded alien Trion posing as a human student, is given an offer by the Black Guardian for passage off Earth if he should kill the Doctor.

Meanwhile, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa find the TARDIS stuck in the warp ellipse of a starliner trapped in time. Materialising aboard, they find a transmat device, with separate endpoints to Earth in 1977 and 1983, is creating the interference. Turlough arrives from the 1983 transmat, feigning lack of comprehension of the situation. The Doctor instructs Nyssa and Tegan to stay aboard the TARDIS while he returns with Turlough to 1983 to fix that transmat point, hoping it will allow the TARDIS to escape. Instead, the TARDIS materialises in 1977 at an unknown location. Suspecting that UNIT would know its whereabouts, the Doctor visits his friend, retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and surprised to learn some trauma in the past has made him lose the memories of the last few years. However, as the Doctor talks about 1977, the Brigadier starts regaining some memories.

In 1977, Nyssa and Tegan leave the TARDIS and find a horribly disfigured man in the transmat capsule, whom they believe is the Doctor. They seek out help from the younger Brigadier, and the "Doctor" urges all three to return with him to the starliner via the TARDIS. In 1983, the Doctor detects the TARDIS' movement, and he, Turlough, and the older Brigadier also return to the starliner via the transmat. The Doctor regroups with his companions; realising two versions of the Brigadier are aboard, he instructs them all to keep the two separated, as if they should touch, it could release a potentially catastrophic energy discharge due to the Blinovitch limitation effect.

The figure posing as the Doctor is forced to reveal himself as Mawdryn, one of several human scientists aboard the liner that were trying to discover the Time Lord secret of regeneration. Their experiments failed, and he and his fellow scientists have become immortal in this painful state and seek to die, but the Doctor determines the only way to do so is to give up his remaining regenerations. He attempts to leave with his companions, but find that Nyssa and Tegan suffer the same affliction as Mawdryn and de-age rapidly once in the Time Vortex, and quickly returns to the ship. The Doctor agrees to give up his regenerations and prepares to transfer this energy. Elsewhere on the ship, the two Brigadiers, having been left alone, have managed to find each other. They reach out to touch, and the flash of energy occurs just at the right moment before the Doctor gives up his regenerations as to help end Mawdryn and his colleagues lives as requested, restoring Nyssa and Tegan, and saving the Doctor. The younger Brigadier passes out from shock, and the Doctor suspects this was the trauma that caused him to lose his memories. The TARDIS crew return the Brigadiers to their proper time, and the Doctor accepts Turlough's request to join his crew, unaware of the Black Guardian's influence.


All of the stories during Season 20 featured enemies from the Doctor's past. The past enemy for this and the next two serials was the Black Guardian, who last faced the fourth incarnation of the Doctor at the conclusion of The Key to Time saga in The Armageddon Factor (1979). The Black Guardian Trilogy continues in the following serial, Terminus. It was also the first Fifth Doctor serial to feature Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier. (He later would appear alongside the Second Doctor and at the end The First, Third and Fifth Doctors in The Five Doctors.) During the Brigadier's flashback he sees Yeti (The Web of Fear), Cybermen (The Invasion), the Second Doctor (The Three Doctors), the Axons (The Claws of Axos), Daleks (Day of the Daleks), the Third Doctor (Spearhead from Space), the First Doctor (The Three Doctors), the K1 robot (Robot), a Zygon (Terror of the Zygons), the Fourth Doctor, and finally himself from The Three Doctors. All of the clips were shown in sepia-tinted black & white.

Mawdryn Undead also makes the first explicit statement in the series that the current Doctor is the fifth incarnation. The Doctor clearly states that he has eight incarnations left after his present one, confirming that there were no earlier incarnations before the televised First, played by William Hartnell.

The Doctor cites the "Blinovitch Limitation Effect" as the reason for the temporal energy discharge resulting from the meeting of the two Brigadiers; this was first mentioned in the Third Doctor serial Day of the Daleks. However, the effect does not seem to apply to Time Lords, or it can at least be mitigated, as the Doctor has met his prior incarnations on several occasions (the difference between incarnations may itself be an explanation). In the fourth episode, the Doctor says he might try to "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow", a phrase often associated with the Third Doctor.

The Doctor refers to several people that he worked with in UNIT, namely Sergeant Benton, Harry Sullivan, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith and Liz Shaw. In a rare case of an explicit calendar date being applied to the UNIT timeline, the Brigadier indicates that Benton left UNIT in 1979 and became a used-car salesman, and that Sullivan had been seconded into doing secret government work at some point prior to 1983. The episode also establishes that the Brigadier left UNIT in 1976 and became a teacher, although the serials The Five Doctors and Battlefield establish that he later re-established his relationship with the organization. (See UNIT dating controversy.)

Nyssa mentions that she wishes the Zero Room hadn't been destroyed (as seen in Castrovalva) so that Mawdryn, believed to be the Doctor, could properly regenerate.


Episode Title Run time Original air date UK viewers
(millions) [2]
1 "Part One" 24:03 1 February 1983 (1983-02-01) 6.5
2 "Part Two" 24:33 2 February 1983 (1983-02-02) 7.5
3 "Part Three" 24:32 8 February 1983 (1983-02-08) 7.4
4 "Part Four" 24:33 9 February 1983 (1983-02-09) 7.7

Mawdryn Undead was a replacement for an earlier script, The Song of the Space Whale, by Pat Mills. That script fell through when Mills and script editor Eric Saward could not agree on certain elements of the story. Instead, Peter Grimwade quickly produced Mawdryn Undead to fill the gap in the production schedule and provide the first instalment of the Black Guardian Trilogy. The Song of the Space Whale was later renamed The Song of Megaptera and made into an audio drama by Big Finish Productions for their Doctor Who The Lost Stories range.

Cast notes[edit]

The original intent of the production team was for the character of Ian Chesterton, one of the original regulars from the series' first two seasons from 1963–1965, to return for a guest appearance in this story; hence the school setting, as Chesterton was a science teacher, and the Brigadier's being issued with another TARDIS homing device. However, actor William Russell proved to be unavailable. Some consideration was given to using instead the character of Harry Sullivan, who was a regular in the programme for a season in the mid-1970s, before the return of Lethbridge-Stewart was eventually decided upon.

David Collings, who played Mawdryn, also appeared in the Fourth Doctor serials Revenge of the Cybermen as Vorus and The Robots of Death as Poul, and would himself play an alternate Doctor in Big Finish Productions' Doctor Who Unbound audio play, Full Fathom Five. Angus MacKay previously played Borusa in The Deadly Assassin. John Nathan-Turner felt that Mark Strickson's blond hair didn't stand out well enough from Peter Davison's blond hair. He initially asked Strickson to shave his head, but when Strickson declined, Turner decided that Strickson's hair should be dyed red.

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Mawdryn Undead
Doctor Who Mawdryn Undead.jpg
Author Peter Grimwade
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
12 January 1984
ISBN 0-426-19393-8

A novelisation of this serial, written by Peter Grimwade, was published by Target Books in August 1983.

Home media[edit]

Mawdryn Undead was released on VHS in November 1992. It was released on DVD as part of the Black Guardian Trilogy on 10 August 2009 (Region 2),[3] with a commentary by Peter Davison, Mark Strickson, Nicholas Courtney and Eric Saward and an option to view the story with new CGI effects. The serial was also released in issue 50 of the Doctor Who DVD Files, published 1 December 2010.


  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 126. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  3. ^ "Doctor Who - The Black Guardian Trilogy: Mawdryn Undead / Terminus / Enlightenment DVD". Retrieved 2013-10-09. 

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]