Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Doctor Who: State of Decay – review (TV Series)

Directed by: Peter Moffatt

First aired: 1980

Contains spoilers

I like Doctor Who and every person has their favourite Doctor. This story (told over four episodes) not only features vampires but also my favourite incarnation of the Doctor as played by Tom Baker – so you know I’m going to like this one. I did review the novelisation of this here, but the simplistic language made for an average review. A shame as the story is great. Indeed the poorest thing about this is the fact that the BBC has not seen fit to release the story on DVD yet – though you can still find the VHS.

The story sees the Doctor and his Time Lord companion Romana (Lalla Ward) stuck in E-space and, in itself, makes up part of a trilogy. They find a planet which, despite detecting technology, seems to only have a tower and a village making up a feudal system. Let us for a moment look at the toy tower – now, in some eyes such an effect looks absolutely rubbish but this is one of the things that makes original Doctor Who endearing.

All is not as it seems. The Lords of the land, Lord Zargo (William Lindsay), Lady Camilla (Rachel Davies) and the councillor Aukon (Emyrs James) are all vampires. They select villagers to either be guards or snacks. They were changed into such by the Great Vampire – we’ll get to that in a second. There is a rebel group trying to reclaim technology, knowledge and their freedom and the Doctor has a stowaway in the form of Adric (Mathew Waterhouse).

The vampire lore is impressive, let us look at the humanoid vampires first. The tower is actually a space ship drawn into E-Space, by the Great Vampire, 1000 years before and the vampires are the Captain, First Officer and Science Officer. They have fangs and drink blood. Camilla states that the blood of the dead is stale and flat and we hear of a draining. We also see desiccated bodies drained and their blood siphoned to the Great Vampire. That said we do not actually see a vampiric attack.

Aukon controls bats – indeed as well as using them to spy for him he also uses them to attack folks. He seems to have telepathic abilities, and it was through him the Great Vampire lured the ship originally. He also runs a decent line in hypnosis – though to be fair all three seem to have that power. It actually appears that he is the real power of the three. All three have prodigious physical strength.

We hear that all inhabited planets have vampire legends and it is suggested that a stake through the heart or decapitation is the way to despatch them. There is a mention of avoidance of daylight, though the tower has no windows so we never discover the truth of that legend and a mention of not crossing running water and avoidance of certain herbs. In fairness when we see them die it is due to the death of the Great Vampire (well you didn’t think it would survive did you?). When they die they age and then corrupt in typical vampire style.

As for the great vampire, these are giant creatures. We see it on scanner in fuzzy mode and as a giant rubber hand (those brilliant special effects again). We discover that they could drain a whole planet and they were destroyed by the Time Lords. The Time Lords couldn’t use energy weapons (they just strengthened the vampires) and so created bowships – spaceships that fired giant bolts of metal through their hearts, for they could only die if the heart was destroyed. Of course one escaped into E-Space and has been using its minions to heal itself.

Baker is fantastic as the Doctor; well you’d expect me to say no less would you? Lalla Ward makes for an excellent companion and she was no stranger to the genre having appeared in Hammer’s Vampire Circus, of course this time she was fighting vampires whilst in her previous role she was a vampire.

The three vampires ham it up like nothing on Earth and are an absolute joy to watch and there are plenty of fake looking beards flying around that are simply amusing. The show throws in a hint of slapstick, primarily around the Doctor, and some nice quirky humour. A moment to watch for is a rebel having to eat humble pie and apologise to the Doctor’s robot dog, K9 (voiced by John Leeson).

All is not good, however, Adric was utterly annoying as a character and this probably had much to do with Waterhouse’s performance – though to be fair his career (which continued mainly in theatre) had just started.

One to be watched. Come on BBC, release the DVD. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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