Writer: Terrance Dicks
Director: Christopher Barry
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), John Levine (Warrant Officer John Benton), Patricia Maynard (Miss Maynard), Alec Linstead (Jellicoe), Edward Burnham (Professor Kettlewell), Michael Kilgarriff (Robot)
While the Doctor is recovering from his latest regeneration, there are a number of thefts of secret plans threatening global security, with the guards killed. The culprit appears to be a robot, created by the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research, however, his basic programming prevents him from killing.
Behind the Scenes:
After four years running the show, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks made the decision to move on from the show, passing the reigns to Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. Despite this, the pair cast the new Doctor, Tom Baker, to replace the outgoing Jon Pertwee, and Dicks wrote this episode. Pertwee had made the decision to move on partially due to the death of his friend, Robert Delgado, who had portrayed the Master, as well as the departure from the show of Katy Manning, who played Jo Grant. His replacement, Baker, was working on a building site at the time, and previously had played Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexander and Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which convinced Letts to cast him.
Elisabeth Sladen continued in her role as Sarah Jane, but was joined by Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. Harry was mentioned in The Planet of the Spiders but makes his first appearance here. Marter had previously been cast as Benton in 1971, but had been unable to take the part due to other commitments. He later appeared in Carnival of Monsters in 1973 and was cast as Harry when there was the possibility of the Fourth Doctor being portrayed by an older actor. When Baker was cast, the necessity of having Sullivan in the TARDIS was reduced, and so Marter left the series after The Terror of the Zygons.
This episode would also act as a swansong for U.N.I.T. The Earth-based organisation had not been featured as much since The Three Doctors, but with the new Doctor and a fully operating TARDIS, the new production team wanted to explore new stories and new locations. The Brigadier et al would reappear occasionally, most notably during the Fourth Doctor era in Terror of the Zygons and The Android Invasion.
Unsurprisingly, the Fourth Doctor’s debut feels a lot like a Third Doctor adventure, as UNIT are in a support role and the story is entirely Earth-based, being written by a key stalwart of the previous era. This does damage the story somewhat, as it doesn’t help the overall atmosphere of change.
The strongest aspect of the episode is Tom Baker – he undoubtedly knows how he is going to play the part right from the off. The manic energy he provides gives entertainment when this episode begins to flounder and struggle. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the scene between Harry and the Doctor with the skipping rope. This incarnation of the Doctor is remembered for being more overtly eccentric than his predecessors and a lot of
Unfortunately, the story does suffer from some forgettable villains. Miss Maynard and Jellicoe and the Scientific Reform Society fit into the role of generic scientific baddies with the titular robot perhaps saving this story from monotony. I am loathed to criticise the special effects of the classic era of Doctor Who, but the effects towards the end of part four when the robot grows really hasn’t aged well, and the less said with the bit with the tank, the better. I’m intrigued to see how well they will have been to upgrade these for the release on Blu-Ray.
Verdict: A mediocre start to the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, with a strong central performance from Tom Baker. 6/10
Best Moment: The skipping scene with Harry in part one.
Best Quote: The Doctor: Never cared much for the word “impregnable”. Sounds too much like “unsinkable”.
Harry: What’s wrong with unsinkable?
The Doctor: Nothing. As the iceberg said to the Titanic.
Next time: There’s a dinosaur in London, as the Twelfth Doctor makes his debut!