Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Season Eighteen is, quite possibly, the most talked-about season in fandomn. When it first came out, reactions were extremely mixed about it. With time, opinion regarding it appears to have changed quite a bit. Most seem to see it, now, as a very sophisticated yet techno-babble-riddled collection of "hard sci-fi" stories. And that, for better or worse, John Nathan Turner had re-invented the series and was taking it in bold new directions it had never really been before. 

And yet, we have a story in Season Eighteen like "State of Decay" (we also have a story like "Meglos" that is very much in the same vein as "Decay" but that's a whole other story). As much as we want to say that Season Eighteen was a harsh departure from the type of stories the show had been doing up until then, "State of Decay" laughs in the face of this idea. It is a traditional Doctor Who story - focussing on characterisation and adventure and telling a very straightforward plot. And, as much as I enjoyed all the high concept stuff of "Warrior's Gate", "Leisure Hive" and suchlike, "State of Decay" succeeds as well as it does cause it has a nice touch of "Old Who" feel to it. It was JNT's way of re-assuring us that he hadn't totally forgotten what the show was supposed to be about and would make sure to still give us some of that now and again! 

Even the illustrious Tom Baker - who is very grim throughout most of the season - seems to lighten up a bit here. He certainly seems to be giving us a bit more slapstick with jokes like "You're standing on my foot" and getting hit in the face with a door. But, by no means is he allowed to go as silly as he did in the previous season. He recognises the "flavour" of this adventure and adjusts his performance accordingly for it. He can have a bit more fun in this story because the story, itself, is a bit more fun. But, because this is still Season Eighteen, he makes sure not to go too far with that humour. 

He also makes sure to give us some nice serious moments in his portrayal too. The scenes in the TARDIS where he learns about the legend of the Great Vampires are played very straight. Even as he gives a kick to the card files on the floor, he is conveying real anger rather than going for a sight gag. And because of the drama of those scenes, they're some of my favourite in the whole story. 

But, as great as Tom is in this episode (as is Lalla too, of course - the two of them are one of the best Doctor/companion combos), our wonderful Three Who Rule really steal the show. Like Tom, they have some fun with their parts but make sure they never take that fun too far. And because of that restraint, there are some really chilling moments between the Time Lords and their ancient enemies. Some real creepiness going on - even with the silly eye make-up! 

Playing a vampire is not easy. I can say that confidently because I actually am a proffessional actor who was cast as one in a play! And, like "State of Decay", the play was trying to take the concepts of vampirism quite seriously. When portraying such a creature, you need to "ooze sensuality". But if you're not careful, those attempts to "ooze" can very quickly turn campy. And all three actors do magnificient jobs maintaining the balance such a role requires. Reigning things in when they need to, but also "eating up the scenery" when the moment is right. But then, one of them had already dazzled me with his portrayal of Sutehk just a few seasons earlier, so I'm not entirely shocked. 

Although many negative things have been validly expressed about what Terrance Dicks lacks as an author, he really does "get things right" here. This is a tight plot that is still loose enough in places to have some nice "character moments". And not just with the Doctor and Romana imprisonned together. There are a number of moments the two of them have where the chemistry shines. And that isn't just due to the talents of the two actors - Dicks gave them some nice dialogue to convey it. 

This is a damned good script. And, as much as we all sometimes consider the man to be as much a curse to the show as a blessing, we have to give Terrance the credit he deserves in the crafting of this tale. 

Of course, some of those effects in the final few minutes really do mar one's enjoyment of this story. Normally, bad visuals don't bother me much in Who - but when so much of it looks so good and then you suddenly have to put up with a silly rubber bat and a rocket ship that looks like it's moving through a "pop-up" book, it really does take away a lot from the story. But it's my only real complaint about the whole thing. Everything else here is done really well. Even Adric isn't all that bad yet. Especially if you compare this to how bad Matthew would act in future tales. I also think far more criticism gets levelled at our little Alzarian brat than he deserves. But that's a whole other rant that I won't bother to get into here! I'll save it for the day when I finally review "Full Circle"! 

So, hats off to "State of Decay". Not just for the welcome repose it offers us from the "headiness" of Season Eighteen. But because it really is a great little four-parter that serves its purpose well and even expands a bit on the mythos of the Doctor's people. A posthumous thanks to JNT for hanging on to this script when it didn't end up being used a season or two previously. It was worth making sure it got to see the light of day. 

Even if daylight isn't good for vampires!

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