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Monday, 11 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

A highly unusual story. I remember "The Discontinuity Guide" stating that it almost seems like Terrence Dudley doesn't seem to know what it's like to write for Doctor Who. And, as I watched this story with this premise in mind, I found this notion not only plausible but highly effective. 

In the hands of a lot of other authors, "Four To Doomsday" would have resorted to many of the cliches an invasion story in Doctor Who uses. In fact, if we go back a few years to the early Tom Baker days, we have a story called "The Android Invasion" that runs along some somewhat similar lines. Except that, of course, "Four To Doomsday" is highly intelligent sci-fi and "Android Invasion" is a pretty big load of bunk! 

The greatest pitfall it assails that much of "cliche Who" has failed at is the characterisation of its main villain. Since JNT took the helm as producer in the previous season, we have seen many of the more megalomaniacal characters becoming more subdued and layered in stories like "Warriors Gate" and "Leisure Hive". This tradition continues in the characterisation of Monarch. He's very "plummy" both in dialogue and portrayal. And though, like all the maniacs in Who that are trying to take over the universe, his eventual true colours show in a complete disintegration of his personality - even this is handled with a great sense of finesse. Rather than subjecting us the OTT stuff we saw in the pre-JNT days - we get a very convincing and even three-dimensional character. And thanks to this characterisation, Monarch easilly rests in my memory as one of the better villains of the Davison era.

Counterpointing the very excellent Monarch is an equally-strong portrayal in the stereotypical "rebellious character that the Doctor allies himself with in order to take down the bad guy". Bigon is also very well-executed both on paper and in performance. He is ironically tragic as the atheist greek philosopher who has more soul than anyone else on the ship. His relationship with Monarch is also quite fascinating as the dictator allows him his existence because he sees him as a "moral galvaniser". Again, another convention we have seen in countless other stories, but Terrence Dudley gives us a whole new slant on the premise and makes this story thoroughly refreshing because of it.

Now we come to the TARDIS crew. This, in many ways, is their first "proper" story even though the current line-up has been around for two stories. Both those stories were spent dealing with the Doctor's regeneration and we really don't get much of a sense of what their relationships will be like since all the focus is on dealing with a crisis rather than genuinely inter-relating with each other. But, in this story, we definitely see what things will be like with Doctor Five at the helm. It's an awkward sort of muddle, really. Which isn't an entirely bad thing. We've only got one 20th-century human in the mix - the rest are all aliens. Thus creating a nice breeding ground for misinterpretation and even some hostility now and again. And with this new Doctor being a bit more meek like Troughton rather than assertive like Tom or Pertwee, we get even more soap opera drama between the crewmembers because he doesn't tend to "put the companions in their place" when they appear to be getting out of hand. Although this isn't always done quite so effectively in other stories of this season - I quite like how it's done here. And all the companions get fairly equal attention - something that, again, doesn't always go so well in future stories. 

I also enjoyed how, for once, Adric really did join the bad guy for a bit rather than just pretend to like he has in other stories. And the scene where the Doctor "strips him down" in episode four is well-realised. Showing that this latest incarnation can lack assertiveness sometimes, but still knows when to truly take a stand and not back down. And even though Davison is a bit "shaky" in places because this is his first story in filming order, much of what would become "definitive fifth Doctor" is in strong evidence here and he shows that the character is going to move in some wonderful new directions now that old Tom has been laid to rest once and for all. 

Accompanied with all this are some extremely gorgeous sets, a neat form of scanning equipment (the Monopticons) and some really well-choreographed dance sequences (did I just use "well-choreographed dance sequences" in a review of a Doctor Who story? Yes, yes I did). And, of course, the wonderful space walk sequence in episode four. Again, very cheap-looking by the North American standards I'm used to when watching T.V. - but still, a very exciting little moment. Especially with the way the Doctor uses the basic laws of inertia and a cricket ball to save the day! A very "Who-esque" moment if I ever saw one! 

However, along with this, we do get some plot loopholes and things do "sag" ever-so-slightly now and again cause there just doesn't seem quite an adequate amount of story to fill the four episodes. But these problems only weigh down the story so much. "Four To Doomsday", for its flaws, is also a triumph of style and sophistication. I might even go so far to say that it is a shining example of all that is good in 80s-style sci-fi. Not just in context of the series, but the genre in general. A bit of a hidden gem that is oftentimes overlooked just because the monsters aren't quite bug-eyed enough! 

Watch this one again and see just how well it has stood the test of time. It's outstanding stuff!