Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I am quite surprised I enjoy this story as much as I do because re-watching recently I have noticed just how much the production is sort cobbled together. Certainly it has the very poor production values for the glossy season eighteen and has the most traditional plot ever seen in the shows history. 

However the story manages to overcome these drawbacks and escape any great criticism on the strength of the acting and the enthusiasm of the writer Terrance Dicks. 

If you locked Philip Hinchcliffe, Graeme Williams and John Nathan-Turner in a conference room together and asked them to produce a story I should imagine it would turn out very much like State of Decay. The story has several unique flavours that three of the most influential producers of the show adopted during their time. Certainly it is an expression of the gothic horror Hinchcliffe brought to the show being for all intents and purposes a Hammer pastiche (popular of Robert Holmes, top script editor during those wonderful three years) but then it also has a strong comedy flavour favoured by Williams during his fabulous three years of frothy entertainment. State enjoys its sarcastic edge, poking fun at the genre it is mimicking and happy to provide a good backbone to the story where the traditional plot fails. And nestled quite comfortably in JNT’s stylish first year as producer it also contains some strong scientific ideas, Chris Bidmead refusing to let the story wallow in melodramatic happenings. 

It has possibly the strangest feel of any Doctor Who story, the three influences each taking centre stage sporadically throughout the four episodes but mashing together into something original as a result. 

It has pointed out by many people that the show has an almost erotic subtext thanks to the touchy-feely bad guys, the Three Who Rule. Watching it in 2003 there is little that is questionable at all but it certainly highlights the story as one that was willing to be a bit different. Enjoyably, much of the sensual subtext seems to be gay related (up yours Thatcher!)…Camilla has an unusual taste for Romana’s blood, rushing to tend her hand when she is cut and staring at her with lust in her eyes during their initial scene together. Her “there are compensations” whilst gazing at the aristocratic Time Lady still sends shivers down my spine. Plus Aukon’s interest in Adric (oh yuck) is a fine indication of his feelings, I have never heard anybody a man whisper “come” in another’s ear quite so erotically before. The ultimate demonstration of just how sensual they are comes in episode four where Aukon holds the Doctor and Romana’s hands together whilst Camilla and Zargo touch their shoulders. An extremely revealing moment.

The Three are the stars of the show but not because of their perverted villainy. The performances are near perfect with Rachel Davies taking the honours as the most effective vampire. She has the ability of sending shivers down your spine just with the power of her voice (“Countless inhabited worlds all waiting to feed our hunger!” she seethes) and plays the part with grand, operatic gestures that give her character a dangerous, quietly menacing feel. Emery James chews the scenery fabulously; Aukon is a superb lead baddie using his dialogue to enhance the theatrical nature of his character. I love his scene stealing exclamation “You will drink the blood off TIME LORDS!”…very funny and quite scary too. Impressive. He flits between the jokes and the horror with ease, no wonder Lalla Ward enjoyed working with him so much. William Lindsay doesn’t get as many chances to light up the screen being the most subdued of the Three but his quiet “Why am I still afraid?” says everything about his thoughtful character. 

We are mere seconds away from Tom and Lalla grabbing each other on set and getting it on! Another delight of this story is the terrific amount of flirting going on by the two leads. It is the last story that they spend any substantial time together and they make the most of it, every scene they share punctuated by a playful attitude that would be sorely missed in the next three years. Episode three comes as close as they dared, sharing a cell, swapping stories and complimenting each other with coy gazes. Have the Doctor and his companion ever been this close? Not even his moments with Susan can touch the warmth expressed between these two and it is wonderful to watch. You get very involved in their relationship and as a result the next story is a real heart breaker (especially when you think who the Doctor will be stuck with). 

Ahhh yes Adric, Matthew Waterhouse’s debut acting case (although not his first story I might point out before obsessed fans jump down my neck!) on the show. Well he is as spectacularly awful as ever, so bad it is a joy to watch him try. Too complicated a character? Sure thing Matthew, that is a VERY convincing excuse to why you’re so crap in the part. Why then can’t you even manage a short walk between the console room and the door in your first scene in this story convincingly? The robot dog upstages you in every way! At least he is funny/charismatic/functional…you’re just annoying. The production seems aware of the fact and hides him away most of the time and just watch the punch the air scene where Romana suggests they have to rescue the irritating twerp. “Adric!” the Doctor spits out with utter disgust as though the very idea is repulsive. Hehehehe. “I’m sorry Time Lady but one of my family’s died for your lot already…I’d say one’s enough…” Kill the brat! Kill the brat!

When the story remembers its horror roots it manages to pull of some highly atmospheric moments. The chase by the bats through the dark woods is well done (even if the cliff-hanger is a bit useless) and the sequence at the end of episode three where Romana creep into the cob webby bed chamber of Zargo and Camilla to rescue the bowler haircut kid is shot for shot perfect. The aggressive rock music, Tarak being thrown across the room, Camilla advancing on Adric, Zargo pulling the knife from his chest and waving it into Romana’s face…a big thumbs up from the horror fan in Joe. The last episode rips off every hammer film spectacularly, the SF credentials out the window in favour of entertaining melodrama. Romana about to be sacrificed, Vampires baring their fangs excited at the feast, a terrifying creature about to rise from a long sleep, the massacre of innocent guards…isn’t it all gloriously clichéd? And done with such childish panache you can’t help but get drawn in…the story doesn’t really want to scare you but give you a good time and by its climax I was satisfied, greedily so. 

My qualms about the production extend only to the special effects, which are extremely disappointing. Doctor Who is infamous for its quaint FX but State of Decay has no real excuse, The Leisure Hive and Full Circle before it both had sumptuous production values. It would appear the money has run out and we’re forced to laugh at the pathetic shots of the tower, so obviously a model and how Terrance must have been disappointed when they sabotaged his grand finish involving a scout ship and a Great Vampires heart! Sky ray lolly anyone? Even more subtle effects such as the rock Romana throws at Aukon are sadly inefficient. 

The look of the story however is quite appealing. Each set has a jumbled, falling to pieces feel to it that suits the season theme of entropy. The Hydrax is a mixture of grand colourful rooms and cold, mettalic access panels…clearly in need of a paint job. The rebel’s base with its scientific instruments strewn about is exceedingly dated but suits the story perfectly. Even the TARDIS is looking a bit shabby these days, the queasy console groaning as the column rises and falls. The feeling of lost hope the story suggests is complimented by the design. Good work. 

Isn’t the music a joy? Why hasn’t this score been released on CD like the others in season 18? Paddy Kingsland is making a statement; he refuses to let the show drag you into its horrific material and instead opts for a shocking rock score, filling later episodes with some real pulse racing stuff. The 80’s have arrived folks and lets be LOUD and PROUD about it! The music at the climax is extremely exciting. Compare this to Dudley Simpson’s cod horror score for The Brain of Morbius (good though it was!) and see how things have changed in the new decade.

I really like State of Decay even if it does stick out like a sore thumb surrounded by all the hard SF tales around it. It doesn’t want to impress you with scientific mumbo jumbo but simply tell an effective story. It succeeds, a final stab at experiencing the fun of the universe before all the serious stuff starts.

Filters: Television Fourth Doctor Series 18