Aired on: 28 February – 21 March 1981
After a season of adventures fixated on entropy and decay, the inevitable and almost-preordained demise of the Fourth Doctor finally arrives in ‘Logopolis.’ After an immense seven years in the role that ingrained him in the public consciousness as the definitive Doctor, Tom Baker departs with a monumental performance in a story which fittingly sees the entire universe under impending doom alongside his character.
Despite the lengthy foreshadowing, ‘Logopolis’ falters in a couple of respects. To begin, the Fourth Doctor’s death sequence is somewhat of a contentious one given how much the season has been building towards it. He sacrifices his life to save the universe, a grand sentiment in any scenario, but having Tom Baker leave by falling off of a satellite seems like a missed opportunity for such a charismatic lead. At the same time, the inclusion of the Watcher as an intrinsic part of the Doctor overseeing the transition is an incredibly intriguing notion, but there’s simply not enough explanation given to why this being is here at this particular regeneration. Even if the Doctor claims that the moment has been prepared for, it’s hard to believe that he could have known that this particular scheme of the Master’s would have him meet this fatal outcome, giving the Watcher an almost godly subtext, but the special effects employed keep the overall death scene from reaching its full intended effect.
‘Logopolis’ is the second of three tales loosely linked by the presence of the Master, but here he is written as a much more absurd character than the gritty and quite believable version trying to defy nature by clinging to life in both ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and ‘The Keeper or Traken.’ While his notions of grandiosity as he holds the universe ransom and turns perceived enemies into dolls are perfectly within character, they simply seem out of place given how seriously ‘Logopolis’ wants viewers to take it and its higher-concept angles. Honestly, the Master has never been so successful with desires to conquer and destroy as he is here, but the script unfortunately reveals that he accomplished this by accident rather than intent, inadvertently highlighting an ineptitude of the character never before brought to the forefront so glaringly. With intriguing connections to both Nyssa and Tegan, there certainly is hope that the character can be better redeemed going forward, but the overall execution of this long-standing foe here is ultimately lacking.
Fortunately, though, ‘Logopolis’ does manage to succeed in many aspects, and the addition of the human companion Tegan as well as the lengthy segments on Earth signal a welcome return to familiarity after the Fourth Doctor seemingly distanced himself from the planet for so long following Sarah Jane’s departure. Where they story really works is in its ability to show just how much everything is falling apart, the cloister bells indicating that even the TARDIS is not immune from the laws of thermodynamics. Indeed, as the very fabric of the universe and the programme threatens to fall apart, even the notion of a police box being used as a police box indicates the potential shrinking scope of the world within the context of Doctor Who before something altogether more terrifying occurs as the Master makes his presence known.
The concept of Logopolis itself as science and religion are combined in an advanced society trying to stave off the effects of entropy on the universe works exceedingly well. In fact, the poorly-realized setting and the fact that such an advanced society would take satellite designs from modern Earth are easily forgiven since the notion of ritualized chanting of organic block transfer calculations to alter the fabric of the universe is so innately engrossing. The necessity of a living brain for these calculations could have easily anchored more of the drama had the script chosen to go that way. At the same time, and quite fittingly, the Doctor is forced to confront his feelings regarding the departure of Romana, a companion he obviously cared for very deeply and fully intended on traveling with for a very long time. Even after the Doctor visits her room and acknowledges just how quickly she left him, it’s also quite touching- if pointed- that he must jettison her room in order to allow the TARDIS to take off and allow him to continue his travels.
As a whole, ‘Logopolis’ is a story with mixed results. It ultimately does not give Tom Baker the epic send-off he deserved, partly because of the time needed to introduce a new companion in Tegan Jovanka but even more because of how comically absurd the Master is written compared to other recent appearances. The signs of decay pervading the script are incorporated fantastically, however, and it’s in the high-concept notions as well as in the small personal details where ‘Logopolis’ truly excels.