Aired 15 – 23 February 1983
‘Terminus’ is unquestionably another serial that succeeds more with its ambition than with its actual execution, a poor guest cast and external production factors plaguing a story filled with genuinely engaging and rather high-concept notions. It marks an intriguing end to Sarah Sutton’s run in the TARDIS in the middle of Turlough’s conflict with the Black Guardian as well, giving Nyssa an admirable send-off that makes the most of her benevolent nature, but ultimately a lack of consistency and depth along with some questionable decisions keep ‘Terminus’ from being what it truly wants to be.
Turlough being an agent of the Black Guardian tasked with killing the Doctor is a fascinating premise for a companion, but unfortunately little is done with it here, as was the case in ‘Mawdryn Undead.’ Instead, most of the drama surrounding this fact is boiled down to Tegan and Turlough discussing whether or not they truly trust one another. It is notable that Turlough takes Adric’s room in the TARDIS while stating that he’s through with children, though, and this can quite overtly be seen as the personification of the gradual darker undertones the franchise was starting to employ more regularly. Indeed, the most glaring fault with ‘Terminus’ is that it simply does not advance the Black Guardian plot at all, Turlough’s development stuck in a holding pattern that even the Guardian acknowledges as excessive.
Much like ‘Mawdryn Undead,’ however, ‘Terminus’ has an overabundance of ideas that never quite get explored in as much detail as they deserve, in the process weakening the overall end product. ‘Terminus’ seems precariously close to offering a biting look at private health care systems, but keeping the corporation in charge more or less anonymous means that the Doctor never truly gets a chance to confront the corrupt system even as it ships lepers and uses prisoners as slaves by controlling an addictive drug. The Doctor even admits that the company would not respond to any sort of rebellion from the Vasils, a defiantly placid concession from a man who bases his life around righting wrongs. Similarly, the notion that an explosion on Terminus caused the Big Bang is immensely intriguing, but quickly cramming it into a crowded episode seemingly just to intensify the stakes means that it comes off rather less successfully than intended.
Looking beyond the poorly-realized Garm and the strange fact that the clothing of the infected seems to be made as tattered rags rather than normal clothing that has become tattered through wear and tear, the set design for the serial is fairly effective, and the darker environment is a nice contrast to the well-lit sets of recent stories. And although the guest cast is fairly forgettable, Peter Davison is never anything less than engrossing as he gives it his all and reacts perfectly to every situation. Fittingly, the plight of Terminus dovetails nicely with Nyssa’s recent history of seeing her father turned into the Master as her entire planet was destroyed, providing the perfect location for Nyssa’s benevolent spirit to take root as she chooses to stay behind and help those affected. There genuinely are some very interesting and well-done moments within ‘Terminus,’ but the overall affair is rather overcrowded and muddled, and it can’t quite achieve what it so confidently attempts.