The Malus’s influence is asserting itself all over the village and the games take a deadly turn. The Doctor and his friends rush back to the TARDIS, but what will they find within?
Of these two-part stories that occur in every Fifth Doctor season (Black Orchid and The King’s Demons), The Awakening is definitely the best. That is not to say that it is a great story, but it does show promise which could have been realised had the story been a four-part one, as originally intended.
Eric Pringle’s sole contribution to Doctor Who is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some nice ideas here, such as an evil entity causing two time periods to touch and influence the other. The is an example of quintessential Doctor Who, giving us a rural village battling an ancient evil, like The Daemons, whilst the villagers participate in war games. Unfortunately, the shortening of the story really robs the story of any dramatic tension and feels like enormous chunks of story and set pieces have been thrown away. A lot of the guest cast find that their characterisation is just thrown out of the window. One example of a character who suffers from this is Wolsey, who is involved in the war games from the outset, but starts to doubt Hutchinson when he wants to burn Tegan as part of the May Fair. It all feels a bit rushed and disappointing as the story progresses.
It baffles me that the story gives the Doctor two more companions whilst giving Tegan and Turlough so little to do. Instead, the Doctor runs around with Polly James’s Jane Hampden and Keith Jayne’s Will Chandler, but due to the reduced run time, they are barely given time to really make an impression and endear themselves to the audience. It really feels as though this is a missed opportunity to give Tegan some background colour. The whole reason why the Doctor has taken the TARDIS here is so that Tegan can visit her grandfather, but both characters barely get a look in here. Perhaps it is because Tegan has been with the program has been going on for a while now and the writers are running out of things to do, or maybe she would have had more to do and accordingly more interaction with her grandfather could have been afforded if this story had been four parts long rather than two. As for Turlough, you can’t help but feel that the writers don’t really know what to do with him following him trying to kill the Doctor. Ultimately, you just feel sorry for Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson, who don’t really get a chance to progress their characters at all.
The Awakening is certainly a visual feast and benefits from some great location and set-based work. The church in the village is possibly one of the best I’ve seen in Doctor Who, and if I hadn’t known previously, I wouldn’t have necessarily leapt to the assumption that it was a set. In particular, the stained glass window in the background looks really authentic and adds a splash of colour to a mostly grey church. The location shooting is great, especially watching people in English Civil War era armour on horseback, with hints of modernity such as telephone boxes. The Malus is another example of good design and is, I think, a rightly iconic image from the Davison era. It is really sinister, especially when combined with the moving green eyes and dry ice spewing from the wall, and I think it works really well as it bursts through the wall in the church. It really conveys a sense of menace and threat, which its static psychic projections ultimately don’t do.
Peter Davison has been very vocal about the fact that he felt he had truly got to grips with the role by his third year, and it does show here. He does get a lot of the exposition to factor in, but Davison is able to tackle this gamely and full-on, with his usual youthful energy. His dynamic with Keith Jayne as Will Chandler is quite fun to watch, even if his proto-companion is underdeveloped due to the limited run time. This is almost a respite for the Fifth Doctor in his final televised series, which starts with a rather sombre tale in which every character dies except for the main cast and continues to get more and more bleak as it progresses.
Verdict: The promise of the idea is let down by the short run time, which would have allowed both the story and guest cast more room to breathe. Davison is quite good here though. 4/10
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Polly James (Jane Hampden), Dennis Lill (Sir George Hutchinson), Glyn Houston (Colonel Wolsey), Jack Galloway (Joseph Willow), Keith Jayne (Will Chandler), Christopher Saul (Trooper) & Frederick Hall (Andrew Verney).
Writer: Eric Pringle
Director: Michael Owen-Morris
Producer: John Nathan Turner
Composer: Peter Howell
Original Broadcast Dates: 19th – 20th January 1984
Behind the Scenes
- Working titles for this story were War Game and Poltergeist.
- The Awakening is both the first and only contribution to the show for writer Eric Pringle and Director Michael Owen-Morris.
- It is the last story worked on by Barry Newberry, who had been a designer on the show since the era of Verity Lambert and one of the original designers for Doctor Who.
- The character of Will Chandler was supposedly considered by producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward to be a new companion, but they thought that he may get too annoying. Saward himself disputed this in 2010, stating that he knew nothing about plans to make the character a companion.
- The first story since Black Orchid not to feature a returning antagonist.
- The story was originally intended to have four parts but was cut to two in the script-editing stage. Pringle disliked Saward’s changes, believing that they made the story confusing to follow and rushed. Saward also added links to his earlier story, The Visitation.
- Eric Pringle had written another script that featured the Daleks called The Darkness. This story was chosen over The Darkness due to the Saward-penned Resurrection of the Daleks, scheduled for later this season.
- This story saw the debut of a slightly altered costume for the Fifth Doctor. His jumper featured thicker black and red stripes, the trousers thick orange and white stripes and the red collar lining was replaced by a green one.
- The story gained a reputation as the production had apparently destroyed a lychgate in a sequence involving a horse-drawn cart and featured on an internal BBC video about safety when filming with animals. The lychgate destroyed had actually been designed by Barry Newberry.
- Dennis Lill had previously played Dr Fendelman in Image of the Fendahl.
- Glyn Houston had previously appeared in The Hand of Fear, playing Professor Watson.
Anything involving the church and the Malus. The cliffhanger at the end of Part One would fill the criteria, if not for the elongated cry of “Doctor!” from Jane Hampden.
We’re running out of places to run.
That’s the story of our lives.Turlough and Tegan Jovanka
Previous Fifth Doctor Story: Warriors of the Deep