Mawdryn Undead

Posted in Episode by - March 15, 2017
Mawdryn Undead

Aired 1 – 9 February 1983

The early tenure of Peter Davison has proven it is unafraid to tackle time travel in its scripts, with ‘Four to Doomsday,’ ‘Earthshock,’ and ‘Time-Flight’ each featuring the concept in some key fashion. ‘Mawdryn Undead’ takes things one step further with its plot occurring over two time periods occurring out of sync with one another, a fantastic central premise in a story featuring the return of the Black Guardian, the return of the Brigadier, and the introduction of new companion Turlough.

The Black Guardian, of course, was introduced at the end of the Key to Time season as an opposing force to the White Guardian, but his plan and motivations here are never fully explained. He overtly states that he views the Doctor’s good as his evil and that he wants the Doctor killed, but it’s unclear what has spurred this hostility to manifest so resolutely now or why, exactly, he has chosen Turlough as his weapon of choice when so many more effective means must be at his disposal throughout the universe. In fact, the Doctor’s casual acceptance of Turlough aboard the ship exemplifies this incarnation’s trusting demeanor, but it also highlights how potentially dangerous the system of simply trusting and accepting people can be. Even as Nyssa and Tegan scoff at the fact that Turlough just appeared and walked into the TARDIS, Nyssa is quick to point out that Tegan did much the same, bringing into focus just how much implicit trust there is among TARDIS travelers who really know nothing about each other. Wisely, though, ‘Mawdryn Undead’ also explores that trusting relationship from the other direction as well as the skeptical Brigadier, Nyssa, and Tegan find themselves unable to not accept that the strange man they see before them just may be the regenerated Doctor he claims to be.

Although the Brigadier’s role here was originally intended for Ian Chesterton, Nicholas Courtney still does incredible work with somewhat limited material, offering a glimpse of what life after the Doctor can sometimes be for one-time companions and associates. This is a man who devoted his every fibre of being to the creation and maintenance of UNIT, and it’s quite sad to hear that he was kicked out due to a nervous breakdown, leading to his lonely role at the boarding school Turlough attends. Of course, as events play out with the 1977 and 1983 versions of the Brigadier in close proximity, it becomes clear that the Doctor unknowingly played an active role in causing the nervous breakdown, a fascinating yet heartbreaking revelation given how important the Brigadier has been in the Doctor’s lives. The Brigadier here is a man stuck in time even as he ages, not quite at peace with his surroundings or the modern time, and there’s a sense of true sorrow that pervades each scene even as Courtney continues to plays his character with a stiff upper lip like always.

The costumes and makeup for Mawdryn and his colleagues as well as the set design of the alien ship are quite effective given the budgetary constraints, and the story of Mawdryn stealing Time Lord technology to live forever provides a nice backdrop to which the Doctor can relate. Although it is a bit disconcerting to see the Doctor be so unforgiving and remorseless, a nice balance and depth is achieved as he states that sometimes one must live with the consequences. ‘Mawdryn Undead’ may end up being a victim of its own ambition as it tries to fit so many plot developments, introductions, reintroductions, and mistaken identities into its plot, but its clever hook and poignant look back at the Brigadier in two times makes for a wonderfully enjoyable experience nonetheless.

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