State of Decay (Doctor Who)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

112[1]State of Decay
Doctor Who serial
Directed byPeter Moffatt
Written byTerrance Dicks
Script editorChristopher H. Bidmead
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s)Barry Letts
Incidental music composerPaddy Kingsland
Production code5P
SeriesSeason 18
Running time4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast22 November – 13 December 1980
← Preceded by
Full Circle
Followed by →
Warriors' Gate
List of Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

State of Decay is the fourth serial of the 18th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 22 November to 13 December 1980.

State of Decay is the second of three loosely connected serials set in another universe known as E-Space. In the serial, three vampire lords rule over a village deliberately kept at a low development level for a thousand years. The lords intend to revive their giant leader vampire, the "Great One", that converted them from humans after their spaceship crashed on the planet.


After the events of Full Circle, the Fourth Doctor, Romana, K9, and their newest companion/stowaway, Adric, arrive on a planet with a feudal society. The villagers live under the thrall of three lords—Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon—who dwell in a shadowy Tower, and experience a yearly ritual called "the Selection", in which young villagers are taken to the tower, never to be seen again. This selection process is enforced by a thuggish band of guards led by Habris.

The Doctor and Romana discover evidence of technology considerably more advanced than the medieval level of development of the planet, and wonder what happened to cause the planet to devolve to its current rustic condition—to be in a "state of decay". Romana suggests that there is a powerful force holding the inhabitants back. As the two leave the village they are seized by cloaked figures. Adric comes to the village and is caught by the owners of the feeding house. Adric is discovered and captured by Lord Aukon, who sees him as an alien and worthy of becoming one of the 'chosen ones'.

The cloaked figures, members of a resistance movement, convey the Doctor and Romana to a secret base filled with forbidden technology. Kalmar is a scientist—a heretical role in their society—and is very grateful for the Doctor's help in repairing a computer which reveals the names and faces of the original chief officers of the spaceship Hydrax—who look exactly like the Lords of the Tower.

The Lords too have learnt of Romana and the Doctor, and Aukon sends a flock of his winged servant bats to locate them. The bats spare them and the Doctor and Romana are seized by Habris and his guards and taken to an audience in the Tower. Zargo and Camilla entertain them, then are called away to deal with a situation called the Arising. The Doctor and Romana discover that the great Tower in which the Lords dwell is itself the spaceship Hydrax, originally from Earth, which also was pulled into E-Space long ago.

The Doctor and Romana discover rows of drained corpses, while the craft's fuel stores are full of blood. Talk turns to vampires and the fact that nearly every inhabited planet has at least one legend about them. They find an amphitheatre, its floor pulsing to a loud heartbeat. It is there that Lord Aukon greets them, inviting them to become the first of the new servants of the Chosen Ones. When they refuse, Aukon tries to ensnare the Doctor. Romana saves him, but before they can escape, Zargo and Camilla find them and they are taken as future meals for the 'Great One'.

The Doctor has deduced (by applying principles of consonant shifting) that the current lords' names are a corruption of the original crew's last names (i.e. "Sharkey" became "Zargo", "MacMillan" became "Camilla", and "O'Connor" became "Aukon"). He realises that the three lords are not descendants, but members of the original crew, mutated into vampires while the subjects beneath them are the descendants of the other colonists, made dull and primitive by over twenty generations of breeding and oppression. He is reminded of ancient Time Lord stories of the Great Vampires—ancient enemies of the Time Lords. He deduces that the Great One escaped destruction at the hands of the Time Lords by somehow retreating into E-Space, and it managed eventually to gather enough power to pull the old Earth ship into this universe, corrupt the main crew and use the colonists for its own ends.

Meanwhile, a rebel called Tarak infiltrates the Tower, freeing the Doctor and Romana. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS, while Romana stays with Tarak to search for Adric. As they try to snap Adric out of his trance, they unknowingly awaken Zargo and Camilla. Tarak is killed by Zargo, but the blood of the dead will not satisfy either of the lords. Adric throws a knife at Zargo, who pulls it out and heads for Romana while Camilla advances on Adric.

Aukon intervenes and compels them to stop, for he was the first to have contact with the mind of the Great One and he alone possesses the mental power the other two crave. He wants Adric as a Chosen One and Romana, a Time Lord, for sacrifice at the Arising, the first taste of revenge for their master.

In the throne room, the Hydrax's former control deck, Romana and Adric argue about their fate. Adric announces that he wants to be one of the 'chosen ones' (i.e., a vampire). They are taken to the bottom of the Tower.

In the TARDIS the Doctor and K9 discover that the Great Vampires could only be defeated by metal bowships designed by Rassilon, fast ships firing steel bolts that speared the monsters through the heart, the source of the tradition of the wooden stake for lesser vampires. He takes the TARDIS to Kalmar's base and there uses scanning equipment to scan the Tower. Under the stores of blood he finds a restless, demonic presence, like an immensely ugly human with bat wings, whom he determines to be the last Great Vampire. He warns it is about to be revived. After seeing it, Kalmar, Ivo and many other villagers agree to help.

The villagers and K9 make an assault on the Tower. The Doctor heads off to the peak of the Tower. Inside, Adric reveals he was faking joining the Lords to arrange an escape, but is unable to attack Aukon and free Romana. The Doctor rigs one of the spaceship/tower's old scoutships to launch and fall back toward the ground, driving itself into the heart of the subterranean Great One. The sounds of the ship launching snap Romana from her trance.

With the Great One dispatched, the three vampire Lords crumble to dust. The Doctor finds Romana and Adric and they leave the planet, hoping that, now freed from the corruptive effect of the vampires, it will develop once again toward its former advanced state and even, perhaps, surpass it.


Working titles for this story included The Wasting and The Witch Lords.[2] The serial was a re-written version of a story originally entitled The Witch Lords, later retitled The Vampire Mutations, which Dicks had submitted to the series in 1977, but which had been pulled just before production because of fears of a possible conflict with the BBC's Count Dracula, a high-profile adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula. It was replaced by Horror of Fang Rock (1977).[3]

This serial and the following Warriors' Gate featured an improved K9 prop.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [4]
1"Part One"22:2422 November 1980 (1980-11-22)5.8
2"Part Two"23:1629 November 1980 (1980-11-29)5.3
3"Part Three"24:136 December 1980 (1980-12-06)4.4
4"Part Four"24:5413 December 1980 (1980-12-13)5.4

For Radio Times, Mark Braxton awarded State of Decay four stars out five, writing that "Terrance Dicks's penultimate script for Doctor Who positively gushes with invention and wit. In fact, it's among his cleverest, and gives an already striking season 18 a tremendous shot in the arm." He considered it "a throwback to the Hinchcliffe/Holmes golden age, played with a totally straight bat and all the better for it." He regarded it as "gorgeously designed" and the "vampiric triumvirate" as "wonderfully cast", and "one of Tom Baker's finest outings", saying there was an "on-screen rapport" between him and Lalla Ward which was "charming and relaxed". He found some faults, stating that "some effectively chilly location filming at Burnham Beeches notwithstanding, the bats are a bit lame, rendered by stock footage, cut-outs dangled from a string or a tinkling electronic noise. Despite their simmering menace, Aukon, Camilla and Zargo are all threat and no bite, swishing about with some bizarrely stagey movements. And the Great One is a gloved hand." However, he concluded by stating that it was "supremely atmospheric, solid of script and with potent production values."[2] Writing for The Guardian in 2019, Toby Hadoke described it as "a clever meld of vampire legend and science fiction".[5] In Doctor Who: The Complete Guide, Mark Campbell was less impressed, awarding it six out of ten, describing it as a "limply directed vampire tale that doesn't really gel – the horror should be more explicit, the vampirism more obvious. One feels the production team deliberately didn't want to plagiarise Hammer, which, considering the Hammeresque script, seems a mistake."[6]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the State of Decay
AuthorTerrance Dicks
Cover artistAndrew Skilleter
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
September 1981 (Hardback) 14 January 1982 (Paperback)
cassette cover

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by W. H. Allen Ltd (hardback) in September 1981, with the paperback from Target Books following in January 1982. A novelisation with different text was written by Dicks for an audiobook read by Tom Baker and released on cassette by Pickwick in June 1981.[7] On 7 January 2016 the full audiobook of the Target novelisation was released read by Geoffrey Beevers and John Leeson.

Home media[edit]

State of Decay was released on VHS in October 1997. It was released on DVD in January 2009 as part of a boxed set entitled The E-Space Trilogy. This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files (issue 86) in April 2012.


  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 113. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ a b Braxton, Mark. "State of Decay ★★★★". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  3. ^ "BBC One - Doctor Who, Season 18, State of Decay - The Fourth Dimension". BBC.
  4. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  5. ^ Hadoke, Toby (3 September 2019). "Terrance Dicks obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  6. ^ Campbell, Mark (2011). Doctor Who: The Complete Guide. Robinson Publishing. ISBN 978-1849015875.
  7. ^ "State of Decay". Retrieved 9 October 2013.

External links[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]