Terminus

If we don’t do anything quickly, the whole universe will be destroyed!

The Fifth Doctor

Synopsis

Still under the malign influence of the Black Guardian, Turlough sabotages the TARDIS, placing the Doctor and his companions in grave danger. Nyssa disappears through an unstable interface with a nearby space liner, and the Doctor begins a desperate search for her aboard the ship.

When the liner docks at Terminus, a space station at the exact centre of the universe, the horrific truth starts to emerge. It may already be too late to save Nyssa’s life, and the existence of the entire cosmos is now at peril…

Review

Terminus really betrays the lack of forward-thinking in the show at the time. Whilst the new companion, Turlough, was only introduced in the previous serial, the fact that there was no satisfactory resolution to his storyline in Mawdryn Undead means that there is nothing to be done with the character in this second part of what is a trilogy.

For all of this story’s flaws, it has to be said that it starts quite promisingly, keeping the action within the TARDIS for the majority of the first episode and focusing on the relationships between this odd TARDIS team. Steve Gallagher manages to evoke something that feels like a First Doctor serial with a somewhat slower start, however, it is when we get towards the end that the story starts to sag. Part of this is not entirely the fault of the credited writer, as mentioned above, but down to producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward’s decision to make this “trilogy” about a companion attempting to assassinate the Doctor. This story does nothing major to advance that arc, so sidelines Turlough and Tegan to make sure that the Doctor and Turlough spend as little time together as possible. It’s frustrating how ill thought out this whole plotline is and it is arguably Terminus that suffers the most from it – Enlightenment is one of my favourite Fifth Doctor stories and Mawydryn Undead has the return of the Brigadier to give the narrative some purpose, whilst this feels like delaying tactics. It gets to the point that the story even checking in with them feels like a reminder that they still exist.

There are other jumps in logic here too, but one of the ones that bugs me most of all is the fact that Turlough has to move into Adric’s old room. Why is this the case in a seemingly infinite ship? It just seems like such an unnecessary detail that could just be addressed by some simple set dressing. I can certainly see that it is meant to sow seeds of discontent amongst this TARDIS team who are still mourning Adric, but I just don’t understand why it is needed – Turlough’s shifty actions are more than enough to make Nyssa and Tegan suspicious. There are a lot of good ideas here, like the Terminus Inc company exploiting the Vanir with control over supplies of the Hydromel they need to survive and the fuel from the station triggering the Big Bang (“Event One”), but they don’t feel well executed or suitably epic. I did lose interest in the Viking Vanirs, possibly due to their clanking armour and some devastatingly poorly shot fight scenes, but in other hands their subplot could have worked so much better, although there are some good performances in here. The Garm is again, something that could look really threatening, but is overlit and just feels quite cheap.

I do feel sorry for the director Mary Ridge here, as not only does she have a pretty bland story to direct but she also had delays and problems in production of this story, detailed below. This probably affected her relationships with the leads and whilst Peter Davison and his fellow actors aren’t going to act out in the way that someone like Tom Baker does in his later stories, it does show when it comes to the finished product. This also applies to the guest actors – Liza Goddard and Dominic Guard are probably some of the least convincing space pirates in the show’s history. There are other problems here too – Nyssa’s illness would seem much more effective if she showed more signs of actually being ill rather than just taking her clothes off because she is too hot and the less said about the staging of Valgard and Olivr’s fight the better.

This is a really weird last story to bow out on, and that’s considering some of the weirder companion departures that happen in Classic Who. Whilst her reasons for staying may be admirable, the story leading up to it is so disappointing that Sarah Sutton could be forgiven for feeling a little shortchanged at the time. Subsequently, of course, she has had numerous Big Finish stories in which to reprise her role – Sutton, of all the Fifth Doctor companions, has certainly appeared in more stories than Davison’s other charges. But the television show’s production team does not seem to have any idea what to do with Nyssa, with the character being written out of stories like Kinda in Davison’s first series because the show genuinely can’t find anything for her to do. It’s even weirder that Nyssa spends a lot of this story gradually shedding clothing as she suffers the ill effects of Lazar’s disease. Nyssa’s farewell scene does stand out as one of the best parts of a poor episode, which may be down to genuine sorrow to see Sarah Sutton leave – Peter Davison is never shy about the fact that he believed Nyssa to be his best companion and Janet Fielding and Sutton seem to get on really well. As mentioned previously, due to the story being determined to keep focus away from Turlough, neither Mark Strickson nor Fielding really get a chance to shine here.

This is a pretty unremarkable story for the Fifth Doctor too, although I feel Peter Davison is doing his best to elevate this story. I like the way he holds himself with quiet dignity and manages to wrestle control of the situation with the space pirates back even when being held at gunpoint. It’s not really a story that allows him to being charming or particularly likeable as he gets to spout exposition for most of it, but Davison does manage to make even the thickest moments of dialogue seem intelligible to the audience and does it well. It’s perhaps easy to see why he was feeling disenchanted by the role at this point and with the chaotic production, why he eventually made the decision to leave the show.

Verdict: Terminus has some interesting ideas at its heart but fails in its execution to pull them off. Nyssa’s departure is nicely handled, but feels more down to the actors than the script or the production team. 4/10

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough), Valentine Dyall (Black Guardian), Liza Goddard (Kari), Dominic Guard (Olivr), Rachel Weaver (Inga), Martin Potter (Eirak), Andrew Burt (Valgard), Tim Munro (Sigurd), Peter Benson (Bor), Martin Muncaster (Tannoy Voice) & R.J. Bell (The Garm).

Writer: Steve Gallagher

Director: Mary Ridge

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • This story featured the last appearance of a four person TARDIS team until The Woman Who Fell to Earth.
  • Despite the bleak tone of Terminus, it is the only story in the season in which no-one dies.
  • The story suffered many production problems:
    • An industrial dispute between the BBC and the electricians’ union lead to the major restructuring of the shooting schedule.
    • Miscommunication with the company constructing the Vanir armour meant that they were designed to be purely decorative, leading to costly refurbishment being required as they were noisy when involved in vigorous activity.
    • As Part One underran, Eric Saward asked Gallagher to provide two new one-minute scenes. Gallagher misunderstood the request and extending existing scenes to fill out two minutes worth of material. The scene amendments were ultimately discarded.
    • The first day of filming started with a power failure, leading to a two hour delay and then the director Mary Ridge discovered that a set had been erected off its marks. This was further compounded by scenes not being able to be recorded in the TARDIS console room as the correct circuitry, meaning that Ridge had to start shooting on sets that were not yet properly lit. There was another issue relating to the drones having not been tested before they were brought into the studio, one of which did not work. Nonetheless, Ridge was able to film the majority of scenes within the TARDIS and adjoining liner corridor.
    • Scenes were rushed through and often not rehearsed due to Mary Ridge’s policy of never exceeding her allotted shooting schedule, which unfortunately happened anyway due to the above. This led to several scenes having to be scheduled to be filmed a couple of days after Sarah Sutton’s leaving party. The haste at which this story was produced caused Peter Davison great frustration.
  • Nyssa was Davison’s favourite companion and he was upset that Sutton was leaving the show. Sutton claims that the decision to leave was not hers. The Doctor kissing her on the cheek was improvised and Sutton’s tears as she says goodbye to Tegan were real.

Cast Notes

  • Tim Munro previously appeared in the Fourth Doctor serial The Creature from the Pit as Ainu.

Best Moment

Nyssa’s departure scene is the highlight of a pretty poor episode, thanks to the genuine emotions

Best Quote

The outside universe is breaking in!

The Fifth Doctor

Previous Fifth Doctor review: Mawdryn Undead

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