Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Valentine Dyall had the greatest voice. He played God in Bedazzled and Gargravarr, custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex, in the "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" radio series. His voice can convey absolute menace, even when saying things like: "Operate the blue switches!" Sadly, in his role as the Black Guardian, he's just part of a linking storyline that gets in the way of "Terminus", which is not completed until the next one, "Enlightenment". 

"Terminus" itself has a story about health care at its worst; where commercial profit has made outsiders of disease victims. It's not the most well remembered story'; the subject is grim and there are lots of problems. Fans began to appreciate "Terminus" more after the great Doctor Who drought of stories – that period in the nineties when the series had been cancelled and every previous TV story got reassessed in publications like Doctor Who Magazine and In-Vision. The details behind the scenes of "Terminus" read like a production that was cursed. This had enough equipment failures, strikes, and lack of time to make the difficulties of Project: Greenlight's productions seem really whiny. Speaking of whiny, Roger Limb's music score in this can set your teeth on edge. It's not as good as his stuff for "Caves of Androzani" or "Revelation of the Daleks" and seems made up on the spot whenever someone on screen moves around. It constantly gets in the way. Perhaps Roger wasn't very inspired by this one. 

The Doctor and his companions come to a ship going to Terminus as a result of Turlough's interference. The ship is full of the terminally sick lazars, and Terminus is where they are swept under the rug. Terminus is a kind of space station that is supposed to cure the lazars, but no one's ever come back from it. Turlough is being bullied as a result of his promise to the Black Guardian in "Mawdryn Undead". Turlough is a cowardly twerp, but you can sympathize with the character when he's confronted by the Black Guardian and the suspicious Tegan (even scarier). He gets stuck in the ducting under the floors of the ship with Tegan for the whole story, and they're forced to work together. Even as Turlough is trapped in the ducting with Tegan, he still gets nagged by the Black Guardian's crystal. The Doctor is accompanied for most of the story by the raider pirate Kari, because he needs someone to talk to at all times and, doggone it; he just doesn't have enough companions to talk to. This is, of course, also Nyssa's last story. Nyssa takes off her skirt but it's 'cause she's got fever. For most of the rest of it she's in a potato sack like all the other lazars. She chooses to stay behind and help the lazars, as she's the best person to actually find a cure for lazar's disease. It's kind of a tacked-on leaving scene for a Doctor Who companion, just like when Steven left in the sixties to help the Savages. Fortunately the goodbye is more emotional. 

A scary atmosphere has been constructed in the scripts by Stephen Gallagher, but on screen it can get dull. Art deco skulls and eerie sound effects show the intention, but a lot of the sets have iron stairs or prop lights mixed in with wires and plastic bags. The pirates are done up in an 80's punk style with fuzzy hair and eyeliner, wearing capes and fog-up helmets. Fortunately the armored Vanir, guardians of Terminus, have great costumes. Another creepy voice in the story is the loudspeaker (don't say Tannoy Voice, it's copyrighted) doing the announcements about sterilization of the ship. This and the clinical, surgically implemented robots (there was supposed to be more than one!) continue the relentlessly grim feeling of the first few episodes. 

After the creepy ship is out of the picture, more mystery surrounds Terminus with the suggestion that it is in fact the center of the known universe. This comes in a little late and seems like an afterthought. Meanwhile Nyssa has caught the disease, as she takes off her skirt for what looks like no reason. She was originally meant to be feverish, unbuttoning the brown suit and brooch of her earlier appearances. Since John Nathan-Turner had changed her costume for Season 20, the removal of her clothing doesn't make quite as much sense, but... oh well, more Dads. She is then taken by the gruff slave labor Vanir, who just transport her from place to place like all the rest of the infected. "What is this horrendous place?" Poor victim Nyssa. That's about all her character ever got to be. She's had a tough time on the TARDIS, she'd better get out! Perhaps her choice to leave makes good sense after all. 

The Vanir are unpleasant, although they are shown to be workaday joes who have little choice but to go through the motions of their jobs. There is also infighting amongst their ranks, competition, all that stuff. One of the Vanir named Valgard stands out as being especially unpleasant and sneaky. They don't even get a paycheck, just glow sticks to insert into their chests. What a bunch of sad sacks. 

D'you hear someone singing? 

At this point the story introduces relief in the whimsical but tragic Bor. Bor is another guard of Terminus, but unlike the others he's delirious, singing and mumbling phrases repeatedly. "Short term memory's the first to go", as he says more than once. Yay Bor! Too bad he's got that nasty radiation burn. 

The leaking radiation builds as do other science fiction ideas with the introduction of the ancient dead pilot existing in slow time, the Garm, and the Big Red Switch counting down that moment when "the whole universe will be destroyed!" The Garm was meant to be a pair of eyes in shadows and not a Hanna Barbera character, but since they went and made this whole big costume and someone tall sweated like crazy in it, you might as well just enjoy it. As far as "the whole universe will be destroyed" goes, it might be said that the cliffhangers in this story are some of the worst. Episode one ends as the pirate Olvir almost sings "We're all going to DIIIIIIEEE!" Then episode two has Valgard in his chummy, impulsive way, strangle Kari, then change his mind and lets the Doctor know it's his turn, "Only you I'm going to KILL!" Then you get the Universe stuff. Pretty silly, and not good cases for having Doctor Who stories told in segments. 

On the whole, "Terminus" is not a bad idea. It's just that the execution was let down in parts, and it comes off as forgettable next to other Season 20 stories like "Enlightenment", and the celebration of "The Five Doctors". A few later Colin Baker & McCoy stories make it look like a well-executed classic. Throughout the four episodes "Terminus'" potential is there, and perhaps that's why it's worth looking at again.

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