Doctor Who episode 588: Mawdryn Undead – Part One (1/2/1983)
‘I don’t trust that boy.’ Adric’s replacement feels like another attempt to create JNT’s ideal of a tricky, untrustworthy boy companion. There are several things in Turlough’s favour though. First, while he’s naturally ‘cunning as a fox’ (he lies to the headmaster about Hippo’s responsibility for crashing the Brigadier’s car, then later tells Hippo he’s taken full responsibility), he’s also a victim of a higher power. Secondly, while he’s clearly not an ordinary human being (‘I hate Earth’), he’s introduced in recognisable surroundings and more easy to warm to than a space brat declaring his genius every five minutes. And he’s played by Mark Strickson, who brings his experience and training to create a character with the twitchy panic of a trapped animal, full of nervy energy.
I’m not sure about the name though. First “Tegan Jovanka” and now, we’re supposed to believe, “Vislor Turlough”. Whatever happened to the Sarahs and Harrys? I’m not massively keen about Tegan’s immediate dislike of him: it doesn’t have to be a love-inside the Spaceship, but I’m completely unconvinced that ongoing aggro between the regulars is a good idea. I guess it’s another example of Tegan’s “instinct” versus Nyssa’s more thoughtful approach (or maybe as Nyssa thinks he’s ‘Rather nice’ Tegan is getting jealous). I guess she speaks for the audience, who need time to assess the new boy. At least the Doctor seems quite taken with him.
Elsewhere, there’s a lot to take in. This makes a better first impression than Time-Flight – again, Grimwade makes his characters talk believably (or at least believably for them: after a year of Saward, Nyssa’s, ‘As you did into the Tardis on the Barnet bypass?’ actually does sound like something she would say) from the fussing matron to the enlightened despot headmaster (it’s lovely that the Doctor and Turlough share a mentor figure in the form of Angus Mackay).
It’s been pointed out elsewhere that this sees the introduction of “The Brigadier” – Nicholas Courtney’s latter-day revival of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He didn’t used to be quite so florid (‘In thirty years of soldiering, I’ve never encountered such destructive power as I have seen displayed here and now by the British schoolboy’), but the essence of dogged persistence and the constant repression of a sweary outburst is intact. Again, though, like the Master, the Cybermen and the Black Guardian he’s introduced directly to the audience rather than the regulars, relying on our folk memory rather than any real effort in the dialogue or story to explain why he’s important.
I think on the whole this is an enjoyable episode. The design of the warp ship, a sort of Queen Mary in space with gaudy fittings and some grotesque busts, makes a change from the functional clutter of the Urbankan ship or the Earthshock freighter. There’s a pleasant Merchant-Ivory feel to the location filming, and Turlough (and his mission) introduces a different dynamic. A lot of mysteries are set up, with no obvious hints yet how they’ll fit together.
Next episode: Mawdryn Undead – Part Two
I always think that spaceship interior looks like nothing so much as the Crossroads Motel reception set from the same period (only red rather than purple).