Doctor Who episode 538: State of Decay – Part One (22/11/1980)
‘Night must fall, Romana.’ The biggest tell that this was originally intended for the 1977 series is that the Doctor and Romana are involved in the main story by halfway through the first episode, rather than hovering uneasily outside the action. Unsurprisingly, this is much more traditional than Full Circle, and a much less awkward fit for the new house style than The Leisure Hive. As you’d expect from a Terrance Dicks script, the setting is established with economy, and the script pithily establishes the Lords in their castle and the peasants in their village. The Doctor implies that the Lords are leeches feeding off the efforts of the peasants, but we’ve already been clued into their darker purpose: ‘flesh and blood has its place.’
Horror of Fang Rock is often praised for its stripped-back effectiveness, but I think this is equally strong. By the end of the first episode we’ve been shown that the Lords are probably the vampire pilots of a lost Earth spaceship, with bats as their servants and a thirst for flesh and blood. We’ve seen that progress is being held back, with science driven underground – the moment when Ivo pulls a walkie talkie out of a wooden cabinet is strikingly incongruous, like a Hammer Horror peasant suddenly producing a phone, and brilliantly Doctor Who. Like Alzarius, this planet is trapped in stasis: ‘nothing has changed in a thousand years.’
Part of the enjoyment comes from the sense that Dicks has little patience for the serious SF Bidmead and JNT are keen to introduce: the Doctor baffles everyone when he declares somewhere a ‘technocotheca’ only to admit he doesn’t know what it means. After 12 episodes of chronic hysteresis and the wave equations of solid tachyonic images this is more like it. Peter Moffatt, not the most creative director of the 1980s, includes some nice touches, like the bat superimposed over Aukon’s face. And I like that the night sky in E-Space is green, like E-Space itself. After Full Circle, this is a like putting on some comfy old slippers.
Next episode: State of Decay – Part Two