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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Four to Doomsday


Starring: Peter Davison
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 15 September 2008

The Doctor discovers that his attempt to return Tegan to Heathrow Airport has brought the TARDIS to a spacecraft that appears abandoned at first, but actually carries a force of frog-like aliens that may challenge the future of humankind on Earth...

Although Four To Doomsday was the second Peter Davison adventure to be transmitted, it was actually his very first story to enter production, and now serves as an interesting record of Davison’s first tentative steps into the TARDIS.

This was due to a very odd and indeed quite baffling decision by producer John Nathan-Turner to jumble up the production order of Davison’s debut season, as this would apparently give Davison time to “find his feet” in the role before recording the first episodes to go out on television.

This means that by the time they got round to filming the Fifth Doctor’s official debut story Castrovalva, Davison had already got three stories under his belt - but as the Fifth Doctor spends much of that story suffering from post-regeneration trauma and the actual character is essentially trying to find his feet himself, it’s a mystery why JN-T didn’t simply let a more natural production order run its course. What we end up with is a confident and self-assured Davison playing a traumatised and uncertain new Doctor in Castrovalva, followed by a fresh-faced and uncertain Davison playing a confident and self-assured Doctor in Four To Doomsday.

Another, more trivial, but quite amusing side-effect of the completely jumbled production order of this season is the wildly differing lengths of Davison’s hair from story to story - another nasty side effect of post-regeneration trauma perhaps?

And so it is that a short-haired and youthful Fifth Doctor lands the TARDIS on a vast Urbankan spaceship populated by androids, and commanded by the ruthless frog-like Monarch (Stratford Johns), who is intent on breaking the speed of light so that he may travel back to the dawn of time and confirm his slightly egotistical belief that he is God and that he will meet himself there.

It’s certainly an interesting enough premise and makes a pleasant change from the everyday alien invasion story, but it is stretched beyond breaking point over four episodes, as the TARDIS crew seem to spend much of their time taking leisurely strolls around the ship and trying to find things to do.

Stratford Johns, best known for his tough man roles in Z Cars and Softly, Softly delivers an engaging performance as the slightly deranged Monarch, although you do begin to wonder why the production team cast such a fine character actor, only to dress him up as a giant green frog.

Perhaps the strongest selling point of Four To Doomsday is the stunning visual design by Tony Burrough. The vast Urbankan vessel is incredibly impressive on such a tiny budget, and succeeds in creating exactly the right sort of eerie and alien atmosphere. In fact, there’s almost a 1960’s retro feel to some of the scenes, as the TARDIS crew take that rare precaution of donning flashy Space Helmets (and Adric even gets kitted out in a snazzy black Spacesuit!) which really pushes forward the concept that they are embroiled in a weird and wonderful cosmic adventure, even when the sagging script is letting them down.

It’s also interesting to see the Fifth Doctor brandishing his sonic screwdriver throughout the story, regularly having it on hand to knock out the slickly designed spy probes that are monitoring his every move. It’s not a sight you tend to associate with the Fifth Doctor, as just a couple of stories later, the sonic screwdriver would be destroyed and remain absent for the rest of the show’s original run. Bit of a shame, as Davison actually looks pretty cool with it here.

Ultimately, despite the excellent design and ambience, there just simply isn’t enough going on here to sustain the four episodes, and you can’t help feeling that Four To Doomsday would probably have made an interesting, and slightly quirky two-parter.

There are only a few Special Features on this Standard Edition release, and some of them have clearly been thrown in from an emergency stockpile. There’s a largely pointless re-mix of the Davison opening titles which left me cold, and a much more interesting clip from Saturday Night At The Mill, a BBC chat show from 1980 in which Bob Langley interviews Peter Davison about his then upcoming role as the new Doctor Who, culminating in Davison showing the nation how to make a quality chocolate milkshake!

Fans will no doubt be fascinated by the lengthy studio footage from Four To Doomsday, recovered from the personal archive of John Nathan-Turner, which documents Davison’s very first day in the recording studio. Not a great deal happens and there are endless re-takes of the same scenes, but it’s still an interesting souvenir.

Best of all though, is the supporting audio commentary from Davison, Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) and director John Black. It’s always a pleasure and usually a good laugh to hear the good-natured banter of the Davison team, more often than not ripping apart the story they are watching, sniggering at the dodgy special effects, and taking the mickey out of poor old Adric. This commentary is no exception, even if they do veer wildly off topic for much of the story, but it also uncovers a few surprisingly dark moments, especially when Fielding touches upon her deep feeling of resentment towards directors after leaving the show.

A Davison release with the right team supplying the audio commentary is quite possibly worth the cash for the commentary alone, regardless of the quality of the actual story, and that could well be true here. It may not be one to rush out and buy, but Four To Doomsday still serves as an interesting curiosity.


Danny Salter

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