Doctor Who episode 437: The Deadly Assassin – Part Two (6/11/1976)
The Doctor and Spandrell become Holmes and Lestrade for an episode that’s half police procedural and half cyberpunk. The Time Lords are positioned less as Olympian gods and more like the United States government (‘The Time Lords must not be seen to be leaderless and in disarray,’ snaps Chancellor Goth – but seen by whom? The shobogan vandals Spandrell mentions, or by the other powers in the galaxy?).
The Doctor/Spandrell cop show is great fun. Spandrell has become the Doctor’s default companion, half believing his wild stories, and willing to indulge a hunch. I love the scenes of them investigating bullet marks in the Panopticon, and going to meet Engin, a dotty old boffin familiar from any number of Sunday night detective shows. He wouldn’t be out of place in a potting shed in Midsomer Murders. The way he cowers slightly from the much taller Doctor is a lovely bit of comic business.
What wouldn’t belong in a Sunday night detective show is the APC: the Cloud for deceased Time Lords. This AI afterlife predicts stuff like Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity, and any number of current SF series, and feels either timeless or prescient, depending on your point of view. The scenes inside it, shot on film, are where director David Maloney really earns his money. Mist wafting across a wasteland recalls both The War Games and Genesis of the Daleks, before a series of nightmarish images assault the Doctor. It’s tremendous.
By contrast, the studio-bound Gallifrey scenes work fine on the impressively tall and gloomy sets, but they don’t have the same oomph. There are a couple of nice moments though: the sudden close up of the Master’s hideous fish eye is particularly striking. But the most impressive work Maloney’s done in studio is to get fun, interesting performances from the cast. Baker doesn’t overplay the Doctor’s realisation that his old nemesis is behind attempts to frame him, but implies a history to the relationship, and a sort of grim acceptance that he’ll never be rid of his rival. ‘If the Master is here on Gallifrey, then this represents the final challenge. It explains why I was brought here. There are old scores to settle.’ The Master is often described as the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes, but this is the first time I’ve really felt it.
Next episode: The Deadly Assassin – Part Three