The Deadly Assassin
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|088 – The Deadly Assassin|
|Doctor Who serial|
The Lord President in the sights of the deadly assassin
|Directed by||David Maloney|
|Written by||Robert Holmes|
|Script editor||Robert Holmes (uncredited)|
|Produced by||Philip Hinchcliffe|
|Incidental music composer||Dudley Simpson|
|Length||4 episodes, 25 minutes each|
|First broadcast||30 October – 20 November 1976|
The Deadly Assassin is the third serial of the 14th season of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 30 October to 20 November 1976.
In the serial, the alien time traveller the Master (Peter Pratt) seeks to restore his life force by disrupting a power source that would destroy the planet Gallifrey along with his archenemy the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker).
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As soon as the TARDIS materialises within the Citadel, it is surrounded by the Chancellery Guard. Commander Hilred reports to Castellan Spandrell, noting the TARDIS is a Type 40 time capsule, which is no longer in service. The soldiers are ordered to impound the TARDIS and arrest the occupant. The Doctor realises that the Time Lords did not summon him.
Spandrell goes to see Coordinator Engin in the Archives Section. Hilred and his troops enter the TARDIS, but the Doctor sneaks out and makes his way to a service lift that leads to the main tower. A soldier who threatens to place the Doctor under arrest is killed by a phantom-like figure who disappears. All of this has been observed by the Doctor's old adversary, the Master.
Chancellor Goth arrives outside the TARDIS. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is watching a news broadcast by a reporter he recognises as Runcible, a classmate from his days at the Academy. The President is set to retire and to name a successor. Runcible is talking to Cardinal Borusa, one of the Doctor's former teachers.
The TARDIS is transducted to the museum within the Capitol, and the Doctor borrows Gallifreyan robes. Several floors beneath the archive tower, the Master, severely emaciated, confers with an unseen accomplice. He says the trap has been set and they must make sure the Doctor dies quickly.
At the Panopticon, a Gallifreyan quasi-ceremonial chamber, the disguised Doctor converses with Runcible before the outgoing President appears. The Doctor notes a camera stationed on an unguarded catwalk. He also spots a sniper rifle next to the camera. The Doctor fights his way to the catwalk, warning that the President is about to be killed. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, the assassin is among the delegates and shoots the President dead. However, the crowd sees the Doctor on the catwalk with the rifle and assumes he is the killer.
Under interrogation, the Doctor maintains that he has been framed. Eventually, Spandrell starts to believe him and orders Engin to assist him in an independent investigation. To delay his possible execution, the Doctor invokes Article 17: he will run for President, which guarantees liberty for those running for office during the course of an election.
The Doctor returns to the scene of the crime with Spandrell. They discover that the sight on the sniper rifle was distorted, making it virtually impossible for this weapon to have killed the President. They decide to check the recorded proceedings of the event stored in the camera. The Master, hastening to extract the record himself, kills Runcible's technician using his TCE (Tissue Compression Eliminator). Runcible attempts to take the tape to the archives for review, but he is killed.
The Doctor realises that the Master sent the Doctor the premonition of the assassination through the Matrix, a vast electronic neural network which can turn thought patterns into virtual reality. He decides to enter the Matrix to track the Master. Engin warns him that if he dies in the virtual world, he will die in the real world as well.
The Doctor enters the Matrix and is engaged in a series of surreal nightmare episodes. He realises that his surroundings are an illusion and tries to deny their existence but passes out from the strain. In the real world, Engin tells Spandrell that the Doctor’s adversary is using a lot of energy to maintain the virtual environment, so the Doctor can defeat him if he provides an adequate distraction.
Back in the Matrix, the Doctor confronts an assassin who eventually reveals his true identity: Chancellor Goth. In a struggle, the Doctor hits Goth over the head. The Master, realising that Goth has been effectively defeated, tries to trap the Doctor in the Matrix by overloading the neuron fields. Engin gets the Doctor out of the Matrix, but Goth is fatally burnt. The Master then injects himself with a hypodermic needle.
The Doctor and Spandrell, accompanied by soldiers, make their way to the chamber where the Master and Goth were accessing the Matrix. They find the Master without a pulse and Goth dying. Goth reveals that he found the Master, near death, on Tersurus. The Master was nearing the end of his final regeneration. Goth went along with his schemes mainly for power: he knew the President had no intention of naming him as a successor, but if a new election was held, Goth would be the front-runner. Before he dies, Goth warns that the Master has a doomsday plan.
When Spandrell relates the story to Borusa, the Cardinal orders that a cover story be created to maintain confidence in the Time Lords and their leadership. The official story will be that the Master arrived to assassinate the President, and Goth killed him but perished in the attempt. The charge against the Doctor will be dropped on condition that he leave Gallifrey.
Attempting to piece together what the Master and Goth were planning, the Doctor inquires as to what becoming the President entails. He is told that the President has access to the symbols of office: the Sash and Great Key of Rassilon. As Engin plays records that describe how Rassilon found the Eye of Harmony within the "black void", the Doctor realises these objects are not merely ceremonial. He inspects the hypodermic needle and realises that it contained a neural inhibitor, which mimics a deathlike state but does not cause death itself. The Master is still alive.
The Doctor, Spandrell, and Engin arrive at the morgue to find that the Master has revived and killed Hilred. Armed with Hilred’s staser pistol, the Master seizes the Sash from the President's corpse and traps the three in the morgue. The Doctor explains that the Eye is actually the nucleus of a black hole, an inexhaustible energy source that Rassilon captured to power Gallifrey; the Sash and Key are its control devices. The Doctor deduces that the Master was planning to steal this energy to gain a new cycle of regenerations; however, if the Eye is disrupted, Gallifrey will be destroyed and a hundred other worlds will be consumed in a chain reaction.
Inside the Panopticon, the Master makes his way to the obelisk containing the Eye. He unhooks the coils that connect it to Gallifrey and is prepared to access the energy. The Doctor makes his way to the Panopticon via a service shaft. The Citadel begins to quake, and cracks appear in the floor. The Doctor and the Master fight, until the Master loses his footing and falls into a chasm. The Doctor reconnects the coils and saves Gallifrey, although half the city is in ruins and many lives have been lost.
The Doctor is now free to return to his TARDIS. He bids farewell to Borusa, Spandrell, and Engin but also warns that the Master may not be dead. He harvested energy from the obelisk before he was stopped and may have been able to channel it. As the Doctor’s TARDIS dematerialises, Spandrell and Engin witness the Master sneak into his own TARDIS – disguised as a grandfather clock – and escape.
Robert Holmes said of The Deadly Assassin that it was difficult to write a script without anyone for the Doctor to share his thoughts and plans with, the usual role of the companion. Working titles for this story included The Dangerous Assassin (which Holmes changed to "deadly" because he thought it "didn't sound right"). The final title is a tautology: a successful assassin must, by definition, be deadly. However, since Time Lords can in general survive death, and the assassin's victims do not, he is perhaps "deadly" in that sense. According to the text commentary on the DVD, Holmes argued that the title was not a tautology, stating that there were plenty of incompetent assassins.
Bernard Horsfall guest stars as Chancellor Goth. He had previously appeared as an unnamed Time Lord (credited as 'Time Lord 1') in the serial The War Games (1969) prompting some speculation that they were the same character. Other parts played by Horsfall in Doctor Who were Gulliver in The Mind Robber (1968) and Taron in Planet of the Daleks (1973), all of which were directed by David Maloney. Angus MacKay later played the Headmaster in Mawdryn Undead (1983). George Pravda previously played Denes in The Enemy of the World (1967–68) and Jaeger in The Mutants (1972). Hugh Walters previously played William Shakespeare in The Chase (1965) and later appeared as Vogel in Revelation of the Daleks (1985).
Broadcast and reception
|Episode||Title||Run time||Original air date||UK viewers|
|1||"Part One"||21:13||30 October 1976||11.8|
|2||"Part Two"||24:44||6 November 1976||12.1|
|3||"Part Three"||24:24||13 November 1976||13|
|4||"Part Four"||24:23||20 November 1976||11.8|
The cliffhanger to Episode 3 – where Goth holds the Doctor's head underwater in an attempt to drown him – came in for heavy criticism, particularly from the 'clean-up TV' campaigner Mary Whitehouse. She often cited it in interviews as one of the most frightening scenes in Doctor Who, her reasoning being that children would not know if the Doctor survived until the following week and that they would "have this strong image in their minds" during all that time. After the episode's initial broadcast, the master tape of the episode was edited to remove the original ending. However, off-air U-matic recordings of the original broadcast exist with the ending intact, and have been used to restore the ending on the VHS and subsequent DVD release. The edited episode was included when the series was repeated on BBC1 from 4 to 25 August 1977 seen by 4.4, 2.6, 3.8 & 3.5 million viewers.
Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping wrote of the serial in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), "The reputation of The Deadly Assassin rests with its violence and its revelations about the Doctor's people and their culture. Politically literate and cynical ('We must adjust the truth'), the serial is the definitive text on the Time Lords. The Doctor's journey into the APC net ... is a visual and intellectual tour de force of hallucinatory images." In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker reported that at the time of broadcast several viewers took issue with the serial's portrayal of the Time Lords, finding it a contradiction of the small details that had previously been dropped about the Doctor's home planet, but over time its reputation became more positive. The pair themselves called it "a truly remarkable story" and praised the reintroduction of the Master. In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times was positive towards the serial and its supporting characters, though he did criticise the Matrix sequences for being more earthly rather than alien, despite them being constructed from deceased Time Lords. The A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn praised the plotting and Matrix sequences, calling it "well-crafted all around". In 2010, Charlie Jane Anders of io9 listed the cliffhanger to the first episode — in which it appears the Doctor shoots the president — as one of the greatest cliffhangers in the history of Doctor Who. Similarly, Den of Geek named the cliffhanger to the third episode as one of the ten best Doctor Who cliffhangers, praising the freeze frame.
|Cover artist||Mike Little|
|Series||Doctor Who book:|
|20 October 1977|
This story was released on VHS in March 1989 in edited omnibus format in the US only. It was released on VHS in episodic format in the UK in October 1991. It was also re-released and remastered for the W H Smith exclusive Time Lord Collection in 2002 with a better quality freeze frame cliffhanger for Episode 3. The Deadly Assassin was released on 11 May 2009 on Region 2 DVD. The serial was released in issue 52 of the Doctor Who DVD Files on 29 December 2010.
- "BBC – Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide – The Deadly Assassin – Details". www.bbc.co.uk.
- "David Maloney – Doctor Who Interview Archive". drwhointerviews.wordpress.com.
- "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
- Martin, Dan (14 June 2013). "The Deadly Assassin: Doctor Who classic episode #8". the Guardian.
- "Search Results – BBC Genome". genome.ch.bbc.co.uk.
- doctorwhonews.net. "Doctor Who Guide: broadcasting for The Deadly Assassin".
- Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Deadly Assassin". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
- Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Deadly Assassin: Analysis". Doctor Who: The Television Companion. London: BBC Worldwide. pp. 313–4. ISBN 0-563-40588-0.
- Mulkern, Patrick (28 August 2010). "Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin". Radio Times. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- Bahn, Christopher (28 October 2012). "The Deadly Assassin". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- Anders, Charlie Jane (31 August 2010). "Greatest Doctor Who cliffhangers of all time!". io9. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- "10 classic Doctor Who cliffhangers". Den of Geek. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Fourth Doctor|
- The Deadly Assassin at BBC Online
- The Deadly Assassin at Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Deadly Assassin at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- The Deadly Assassin reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- The Deadly Assassin reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
- Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin reviews at Outpost Gallifrey
- Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin reviews at The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
- Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- On Target — Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin[permanent dead link]