Aired 19 – 20 January 1984
‘The Awakening’ is the third and final two-part adventure of the Fifth Doctor era, and like ‘Black Orchid’ and ‘The King’s Demons’ it represents a bit of a reprieve from the darker events of the stories surrounding it. With England of both the seventeenth century and 1984 somehow linked through time, ‘The Awakening’ features a great central concept among a bevy of clever ideas that are limited in execution only by the brevity of the story as a whole.
The true star of ‘The Awakening’ is the excellent location filming, the three villages used to create the setting a superb backdrop for the temporal mischief as past and present collide. Whereas the studio confines and budgetary constraints often relied on viewers’ imaginations to help create an immersive alien environment, no such help is needed here as the production crew maximizes its time in familiar surroundings. Indeed, it is that sense of familiarity that pairs so well with the supernatural as a crack in an isolated village’s church threatens to unleash an ancient evil. Aided by some wonderful lighting choices, the concept of the Malus as a nonverbal entity having a war within itself and causing anger and hatred in those around it comes to life incredibly well. Given the budgetary constraints, the animatronic nature of the foe in the church has to be deemed a success and certainly represents a rather novel approach to antagonism on the programme.
The biggest issue with ‘The Awakening’ is that its limited running time dictates that a significant portion of the story must be told rather than shown, eliminating what could have been obvious sources of tension and context along the way. The psychic projections do alleviate this issue to some extent, but there is so clearly a moody and atmospheric tale beneath the clever ideas begging to be told that the small attempts at tension shown end up feeling somewhat hollow and unfulfilling. ‘The Awakening’ also boasts a rather large cast, but this means that none of the characters really have a chance to develop and are too often reduced to simply standing to fill space. The story’s pseudo companions of Jane and Will fare little better, instead drawing attention to just how little the actual companions of Tegan and Turlough are used as well.
The Malus being the precursor to an invasion is an intriguing concept, though one that may also leave the audience wanting more concrete resolution. As a whole, ‘The Awakening’ is a story bursting with excellent ideas and buoyed by an excellent setting. However, it’s also an incredibly rushed story that fails to allow the proper time for its plot and impressive character list to fully develop. With little context to hold the story together, ‘The Awakening’ is one of the rare Doctor Who stories that warrants a longer running time as all of the elements for a truly classic story are already present and waiting to be explored. Its ambition for a two-parter cannot be faulted, but there is easily enough content to warrant another one or two episodes to craft something wholly more fulfilling.