And if a frog with funny hair can turn itself into a semblance of a human being in a matter of minutes, there isn’t much of a limit to what it can’t do. To say nothing of the dress making.
The Fifth Doctor and his companions find themselves on a spaceship heading for Earth, populated by humans from different eras and three Urbankans: Monarch, Persuasion and Enlightenment. However, the aliens have sketchy motives for heading to Earth – will the Doctor be able to stop them in time?
I’m still no clearer on what the title actually means. My best idea is that it refers to the fact that the Urbankan ship being four light-days away from Earth, but there’s no saying that this is the real reason behind this title. Peter Davison’s second story is a rather unusual one for Doctor Who, but one that is sufficiently engaging and has an intriguing premise. To draw a parallel with the most recent series of Doctor Who, Four to Doomsday feels more like a 1960s story than anything else but also shows the flexibility of Doctor Who.
The main strength of this story is Stratford Johns as Monarch, as he takes a part that could have been hammed up by other actors and is actually quite a compelling villain. He perfectly captures the charm that is able to hoodwink Adric, who for the second time in two stories is seen to betray the Doctor, however, here he is gullible, whilst in Castrovalva, he is being manipulated by the Master. Johns’ performance means that we almost buy Monarch as the benevolent being that he believes himself to be, which does make his hoodwinking of Adric slightly more believable. The scene where the Doctor tricks Adric into believing that he is going along with Monarch’s plan is potentially one of the best in the episode during the entertainment is one of the best in the episode, even if it does feel a bit out of character for the Fifth Doctor. Peter Davison does give a good performance despite this.
Now listen to me you, young idiot. You’re not so much gullible as idealistic. I suppose it comes from your deprived delinquent background.
That being said, there are some elements where this story does raise some issues. There are some issues with the story which make it seem as though the writer Terence Dudley hasn’t seen Doctor Who before. Whilst the story does feel quite tonally different to other stories in this era, this isn’t a problem in a format so versatile as Doctor Who. There are moments like when the Native Australian isn’t translated by the TARDIS whilst the other tribe chiefs are and the most troubling element in the story is the science behind the spacewalk. Whilst visually stunning and impressive considering the limited resources that the series had at this time, the conservation of momentum doesn’t seem to exist in space although the physics of throwing the cricket ball to get him back to the TARDIS is okay. It is evident that Christopher H Bidmead, the former script editor who was keen on ensuring that his science fiction was based on science fact, is no longer involved in the production.
There are also issues with the characterisation of the four leads, with characters like Tegan and Adric just coming across as unpleasant and just plain irritating. The Doctor’s characterisation can be the most excused as this is only his second story and some of his snark and short-temper can perhaps be put down to this. Of the companions, however, Adric comes off by far the worst, although none of them come out unscathed. Matthew Waterhouse is well recorded as stating that the writing for Adric varied greatly during his time on the show, making him unable to get a grip on the character. Adric here is an unprecedented misogynist and extremely gullible despite his ‘boy genius’, meanwhile Tegan even more emotional than usual, even blubbing when she can’t get the TARDIS to escape the ship’s force field. Nyssa comes across as quite smug, but she does come off as a much more suitable companion than the other two. According to producer John Nathan Turner, this characterisation of the group was the closest to that originally envisaged, however, this TARDIS team could have come across much more unlikeable if this had been followed for the entire series.
Despite this, the direction deserves to be commended, as the corridor scenes help make the spaceship feel interconnected and aspects like the space walk look visually stunning, and the ending of the episode, where the Doctor shrinks Monarch also looks great. The story has some interesting elements and the initial mystery of the ship keeps the viewer intrigued.
Verdict: Four to Doomsday is a mixed bag that contains some interesting ideas, but the characterisation of the TARDIS team feels off. It is well directed and Stratford Johns gives a great performance. 5/10
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Stratford Johns (Monarch), Paul Shelley (Persuasion), Annie Lambert (Enlightenment), Philip Locke (Bigon), Burt Kwouk (Lin Futu), Illarrio Bisi-Pedro (Kurkutiji), Nadia Hammam (Villagra)
Writer: Terence Dudley (1st story)
Director: John Black (2nd story)
Behind the Scenes
- This was the first Fifth Doctor story to be filmed, due to production issues with Castrovalva (then known as Project Zeta-Sigma). Peter Davison attributes filming this episode with giving him a more confident performance in his actual debut episode.
- This episode was supposed to be the last to feature Nyssa, and the Doctor would have continued with Adric and Tegan. However, Davison protested this as he believed that Nyssa was the companion “most suited to his vision of the Doctor.” The production team did relent and Sarah Sutton was retained. This is why Nyssa collapses at the end of the episode, as the following story had been written before this decision had been made.
- The title could be seen to refer to the fact that the ship is four light-days away from Earth, the fact that there are four members of the TARDIS team or there are four ethnic tribes. It could also possibly be due to the fact that in 1981, the Doomsday Clock was at four minutes to midnight.
When the Doctor shrinks Monarch at the conclusion of the episode.
(After confiscating the sonic screwdriver) You can keep the pencil.