Doctor Who episode 541: State of Decay – Part Four (13/12/1980)

‘What goes up must come down’ could almost be the tagline for the season. This model script ends with the perfectly-seeded idea of a makeshift bowship dispatching the Great Vampire, as the Doctor has learned the truth about the enemy, and worked out how to improvise the solution from the materials to hand. Something very similar happens in Horror of Fang Rock with Palmerdale’s diamonds. The final result is a story that unfolds steadily, layering its revelations effectively, giving all the regulars something memorable to do, and takes the audience with it rather than baffling them with undercooked surprises (I’m look at you, The Leisure Hive).

On the flipside, you could argue we’ve seen this all before, and, whatever the logistical challenges of pulling together Season 18, doing a mothballed script halfway through the big 1980s reimagining was a backward step. It’s fortunate that a lot of the story’s themes: of stalled progress, stultifying tradition played out in lengthening shadows, tie into the season’s wider themes of entropy and life being prolonged past its time. For all its horror, this does feel like it’s pitched at a younger audience than something like Full Circle, with the main peril easily grasped and few bits of long, technical dialogue. Most Eighties kids (certainly this one) probably saw a Hammer Dracula before their 10th birthday: the best bit was always when Dracula crumbled to dust in a new and unusual way. State of Decay gets that, and makes sure to include a suitably graphic demise for the Three Who Rule, which wipes away the memory of the puppet Great Vampire bobbing about like Pob.

Decay4

I’m a fan of this. It’s got some great, pithy Dicks dialogue (‘Then die: that is the purpose of guards’), Adric – still an unknown quantity – gets to plausibly pretend to be a villain (‘It looks like this is one time the goodies don’t win’). The Three Who Rule are fabulously melodramatic. Baker does look very haggard during some of the studio scenes (the ones in the TARDIS in particular) – I’m not trying to have a pop when I say Capaldi’s later look is almost entirely based on Tom’s appearance in this. Like Horror of Fang Rock, this has a simple, straightforward ambition and succeeds almost entirely. It’s not the last time this season that three characters react to something offscreen falling at speed.

Next episode: Warriors’ Gate

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 540: State of Decay – Part Three (6/12/1980) | Next Episode...
  2. Michael

    According to lore, Tom Baker was extremely ill during this time of filming — and you can see it most here. His curly hair looks a bit less curly than usual. Also, if you watch, you can tell if Tom and Lalla Ward are getting along. I don’t think they make much in the way of eye contact in this one.

    That said, State of Decay was a favorite on my first run through Dr Who. It was sooo good.

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