Aired 4 – 12 January 1982
The second story often sets the tone for the era to come when a new lead enters the role. Whether introducing a classic villain, a classic companion, or even a classic genre, the second story of each early era has arguably been among the most important and enduring in legacy. However, ‘Four to Doomsday’ is an outlier in that respect, not because it’s terrible but simply because it is so distinctly average. As the first story filmed with Peter Davison in the lead as the programme tried to learn on the fly how to once again function with three companions, it’s unsurprising that there are so apparent growing pains along the way.
Perhaps one of the biggest faults with Terence Dudley’s script, especially after a heavy season of adventures full of grandiose ideas and the weight of the passing of time, is that it simply seems to unfold so nonchalantly. The idea of the self-obsessed Monarch attempting to travel back in time to meet himself as a God is a suitably unique angle for a villain, but there simply is far too little dramatic weight in a rather light plot overall. There are undeniable elements of Monarch’s power as he brings drawings to life and exerts control over androids, but he is simply too over-the-top and deluded to be taken seriously even as actor Stratford Johns wisely plays the role in rather subdued manner. That said, the ship itself is a rather beautifully-designed set, and filling the ship with supposed people throughout Earth’s histories who time periods are brought to life through staged Recreations adds a certain level of atmosphere and refinement to the story.
Peter Davison actually does quite well in his first filmed story, though it’s quite clear that he’s still finding his feet. However, the bigger issue is that the Fifth Doctor hasn’t quite gotten control of his expanded roster of companions yet, and the show itself still seems uncertain about who these people are to become. Nyssa fares the best here, and it’s clear from the outset that she and the Doctor share a sort of mutual affection. Indeed, she even finds herself in the rare position of knowing more about what’s going on around them than the Doctor at some points, and she’s already proven how technically capable she is. Unfortunately, Adric and Tegan don’t quite fare as well, and Adric being so ill-defined at this time is a definite production oversight. Part of this is because of his absence as the Doctor rather bluntly defined his companions’ roles in ‘Castrovalva,’ but the character takes the incredibly unbelievable step here of actually betraying his companions and joining Monarch and his incredibly evil plans so mildly veiled by niceties. Strife amongst a large TARDIS crew could be an intriguing story angle, but there’s no reason to ever expect Adric would go along with Monarch with the information provided given everything he’s seen, and he simply comes off as weak and dishonest because of it. Tegan herself is an undeniably-interesting presence on the show given how brashly she makes her sentiments known, but as of yet that demeanour doesn’t quite work against the quieter Fifth Doctor, and her fixation with getting home to her stewardess job sometimes grates as a result. There’s an incredible potential for dramatic potential with all of these characters given everything they’ve been through, but ‘Four to Doomsday’ glosses over some key moments and focuses on some ill-advised ones that take away from the overall intent for meaningful character development.
‘Four to Doomsday’ is hardly the worst episode in Doctor Who history to air, but given the incredible importance that second stories held in earlier eras, it is lacking overall. It succeeds admirably in terms of style and direction, but the overly pompous villain undone by himself and the strange inclusions and omission of focal moments for character development have decidedly mixed results.