Doctor Doctor Who Guide

'Terminus' is a rather overlooked Doctor Who, but one of which I'm rather fond. Despite some shortcomings in terms of production and acting, it has much going for it, including an interesting plot, and it makes a fine leaving story for Nyssa. 

There are two major aspects to the plot of 'Terminus'. The first of these is the revelation that Terminus is a time machine that inadvertently caused the Big Bang when the pilot jettisoned fuel into a void. This is a rather controversial issue amongst fans, since it doesn't really hold up to scrutiny; the idea that jettisoned fuel could have created the universe seems a bit unlikely, and it is also paradoxical, assuming that Terminus was built by a race from this universe. Having said that however, it's an interesting concept and the impending repeat of such an action by the computer on board Terminus adds considerable drama to the final episode, given that if the Doctor cannot stop it the universe will be destroyed. The second plot thread is that of the Lazars, and more importantly their effect on Nyssa. Having discovered that Terminus is a rather inadequate hospital operating a kill or cure service for sufferers of lazar disease, Nyssa is rather painfully forced to see the true horror of the situation when she too becomes infected. It makes for some fine character moments, as she is forced into a shabby cell with other sufferers, callously manhandled by the bitter Vanir who have very little interest in their charges, and finally subjected to an insanely dangerous treatment in the form of a massive dose of radiation. For Nyssa, one of the most compassionate of the Doctor's companions, this is a perfect departure; having endured so much, she comes through her experience wanting not to get away and put it behind her, but to stay and help others facing the same situation. 'Terminus' is unrelenting grim, which is entirely appropriate given the storyline, but Nyssa's decision to remain on the station to try and improve things provides a ray of hope at the end, not only for the Lazars, but also for the Vanir, as she offers them a way to throw off the shackles of the corrupt and uncaring Terminus Incorporated. Sutton is very good throughout; she portrays Nyssa's distress very well, and the constant misery and suffering of such an inoffensive companion should tug at the heart of even the most cynical fan. The whole story works well at paving the way for her to leave, as she not only stays to help, but specifically remains behind to help by using her scientific skills, often overlooked during her television appearances. Her eventual farewell scene to the Doctor and Tegan is superbly well handled and very moving. It's a shame that director Mary Ridge makes her whip her skirt off for no good reason except possibly to titillate (yes, I know - she's feverish and takes it off to cool off. But it's still in close-upÂ…).

The grim atmosphere of 'Terminus' is present from the start. The malevolent presence of the Black Guardian remains ominous for the TARDIS crew, and once Turlough's reluctant sabotage takes effect the feeling of foreboding mounts as the TARDIS locks on to the transport ship and a large skull motif appears on the wall of Nyssa's room as a door materialises. The skull motif is evident throughout the story, and helps to set the ton and so too does Roger Limb's funereal incidental music, but it's not just these obvious influences that make 'Terminus' seem so bleak. It's many things, from the spectre of lazars disease itself, the appearance of bandaged wrapped hands from behind locked doors and the pathetic moaning of the Lazars, the bitter weariness of the Vanir, and the corpse of the pilot still sat behind the controls of Terminus. I would imagine this dark mood does not appeal to many fans, and I can understand why, but it works to the benefit of the story. 

The use of the other regulars besides Nyssa is rather interesting. On first glance, it isn't very impressive; there is some soap opera bickering between Tegan and Turlough in the TARDIS at the start, and once the story moves to the ship the pair are effectively sidelined for the rest of the story by being trapped in some maintenance tunnels. But there's actually more to it than this, as it continues Turlough's development rather effectively; during his TARDIS scenes with Tegan, he initially demonstrates all of his worst character traits, as he proves smug and condescending. He is also of course still forced to work for the Black Guardian, albeit with increasing reluctance. But once he and Tegan become trapped in the ship, whilst they seemingly do little except wander about in an attempt to get out again, they actually start to form a guarded friendship as they are united by adversity; they swiftly start to cooperate, each seemingly developing a measure of respect, if not actual liking, for the other. Most importantly, Turlough's questioning of whether Tegan could commit murder in cold blood demonstrates his gradual redemption, as he increasingly comes to like the people he's travelling with. He's still obviously terrified of the Black Guardian, but he's becoming slowly more rebellious within the confines of his cowardice. Strickson plays the troubled character very effectively, conveying a great deal simply by frowning a lot. Davison meanwhile is his usual impressive self, and manages to forecast the impending destruction of the universe with remarkable conviction. He too is very good during Nyssa' final scene, and it's rather amusing to see him sidestep the question of whether or not it will be nice to see Tegan. This suggestion that he finds his loudest companion at this time rather tiresome on occasion is quite interesting, and was also hinted at during the final scene of 'Arc of Infinity'. It by no means suggests that he doesn't like her, but it adds slightly to their relationship that it is often less than harmonious, since friends inevitably annoy each other from time to time in real life. 

'Terminus' also benefits from some decent direction, adequate if unimpressive model work, and some excellent set designs both on board the transport ship and on Terminus itself. Where 'Terminus' falls down however is in the guest cast and certain aspects of the costume design. Whilst Valentine Dyall continues to impress as the malignant Black Guardian, the raiders and the Vanir are almost exclusively poor. The single exception is Peter Benson as the ailing Bor, but the rest of the Vanir are horribly melodramatic, especially Andrew Burt as Valgard. The two raiders are little better; both Liza Goddard and Dominic Guard as Kari and Olvir respectively adopt various daft macho postures whenever they are required to point guns at anything, and their delivery of certain lines is also rather dubious (most notably, Olvir's "We all going to diiiie!" at the end of Episode One). But their costumes really don't help; whilst the bronze plate armour worn by the Vanir is rather effective, the costumes worn by the raiders are diabolical, including as they do cartoon space helmets, small capes, and very big hair. Speaking of costumes, I'm also none too fond of those worn by the Lazars; bandages are understandable, but quite why lazar disease results in sufferers deciding to dress in filthy rags is beyond me. It would seem to be a rather unsubtle attempt to draw comparisons with traditional images of lepers, but the parallels between lazar disease and leprosy are already made clear by the script; it doesn't need to be hammered home. Finally, the Garm is reasonably effective, although the use of light bulbs for his eyes is deeply unfortunate. 

It's inevitable that dodgy acting will undermine a good Doctor Who story more than almost anything else save possibly for gaping plot holes, and to an extent this is unavoidable true of 'Terminus'. Nevertheless, it's worth trying to see past this to appreciate the rather satisfying plot, the great design work, and a fine departure for Nyssa.

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