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The Deadly Assassin

Production Code: 4P

First Transmitted

1 - 30/10/1976 18:05

2 - 06/11/1976 18:05

3 - 13/11/1976 18:05

4 - 20/11/1976 18:05


The Doctor arrives on Gallifrey, where he is accused of the assassination of the Time Lord President. Investigating with the aid of Co-ordinator Engin and Castellan Spandrell, he discovers that this is part of a plot hatched by his old adversary the Master.

Having used up all twelve of his regenerations, the Master is now a wizened husk. He is seeking to control the presidency in order to obtain the official regalia, the Sash and Rod of Rassilon, which are really keys to the Eye of Harmony, the source of all the Time Lords' power.

The Doctor links his mind to the Amplified Panatropic Computer Net, containing the accumulated wisdom of the Time Lords, in the hope of tracking the Master down. In the virtual reality of the Matrix, he finds himself in a life-or-death struggle with a hooded opponent. The Doctor proves the stronger and his opponent is revealed as Chancellor Goth, the leading presidential candidate, whom the Master has been using as a puppet. Following his defeat, Goth dies.

The Master meanwhile seizes the Sash and Rod of Rassilon and starts to access the Eye of Harmony, located beneath the floor of the Panopticon meeting hall, in the hope of drawing off enough energy to enable himself to regenerate. The Doctor manages to stop him before Gallifrey is destroyed, and the Master falls down one of the fissures that have opened up in the floor.

The Doctor then departs in the TARDIS, unaware that the Master has survived his fall and escaped to fight another day.

Episode Endings

The Doctor finds a weapon on the deserted balcony overlooking the Panopticon, where the Time Lord President is about to make his resignation speech. He fires a shot into the crowd below. The President is hit and falls toward the floor.

In the unreal environment of the Matrix, the Doctor's foot is caught in some railway tracks as the points change. He struggles desperately to free himself as a train rushes towards him.

Goth gains the upper hand in his battle with the Doctor within the Matrix. He holds the Doctor's head underwater, intent on drowning him.

The Master leaves Gallifrey in his TARDIS, which is disguised as a grandfather clock, moments after the Doctor. Spandrell speculates to Engin that the universe is not a big enough place for the two of them.


The Manchurian Candidate.

The Parallax View.

The murder of JFK and Watergate (political assassinations and cover ups).

North By Northwest (the Doctor chased by a bi-plane).

Porterhouse Blue.


Sherlock Holmes (The Empty House).

Star Trek (Shore Leave, Arena).

The Doctor quotes from The White Devil ('flea bitings').

There is an oblique reference to Harold Wilson's controversial resignation honours list.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Vapourisation without representation is against the constitution!"

The Doctor : [On a voice-over accompanying a roller-caption text presented at the beginning of Part One.] "Through the millennia, the Time Lords of Gallifrey led a life of ordered calm, protected against all threats from lesser civilisations by their great power. But this was to change. Suddenly, and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history..."

Borusa : "As I believe I told you long ago, Doctor, you will never amount to anything in the galaxy while you retain your propensity for vulgar facetiousness."

The Doctor : "I deny this reality. The reality is a computation matrix."

Dialogue Disasters

Master : "You weak fool! You craven hearted spineless poltroon!"

Master : "Resistance is futile!"


Concepts first used here include the Panopticon (a Time Lord ceremonial hall), the Castellan (the head of Capitol security), the Chancellery Guard, and the Matrix, part of the Amplified Panotropic Computer net. Gold Usher is a ceremonial figure. Artron energy is mentioned [In Four to Doomsday it is said to power TARDISes; here Engin says the Doctor possesses an unusually high level of artron energy. Either TARDISes are powered by the psychic energy of the operator (although on various occasions it does work in the Doctor's absence) or this energy 'leaks' in the same way that nuclear power stations shouldn't, and the Doctor's journeys have 'irradiated' him, although the effects are benign].

Time Lord chapters include the Prydonians (the 'notoriously devious' sect to whom the Doctor belongs, colour coded scarlet and orange), Arcalians (green) and Patrexes (heliotrope). Spandrell makes a derogatory remark about Sheboogans [who appear to be the Gallifreyan equivalent of hooligans. They are not the Outsiders seen in The Invasion of Time.] Engin gives Earth its Gallifreyan name ('Sol 3 in Mutter's Spiral'), which is described as 'an interesting little planet'.

Borusa, the Doctor's old tutor, has recently become a Cardinal. In the Doctor's class at the academy was Runcible, the Public Register Video broadcaster, who recognises the Doctor ('Weren't you expelled?') and asks if he has had a 'face lift'. ('Several so far!'). Runcible's broadcasts suggest a Gallifreyan populace not directly involved with the ceremonies of the Time Lords. The Doctor is aware of worlds where the APC Net would be considered primitive, so Gallifrey isn't the most advanced civilisation.

The Master is still using a matter condensation device. Chancellor Goth met the Master on Tersurus.

The Doctor invokes Article 17 of the Constitution, offering himself as a Presidential Candidate to avoid execution (Goth calls this 'abusing a legal technicality'). Time Lord Presidents traditionally free prisoners [from Shada] as their first act in office. Time Lords are said to die after 12 regenerations. References are also made to the Time Lord book of legends 'The Book of the Old Time' (see Silver Nemesis).


The Origins of the Time Lords

The Doctor's Doctorate

Season 6(b)

The Location of Gallifrey





Chancellor Goth is excellently portrayed by Bernard Horsfall, who had previously played a Time Lord in season six's The War Games as well as Gulliver in the same season's The Mind Robber and the Thal Taron in season ten's Planet of the Daleks - all three directed, like The Deadly Assassin, by David Maloney.

The Prydonian seal seen in this story (referred to later in the series' history as the seal of Rassilon) had previously appeared as the Vogans' emblem in season twelve's Revenge of the Cybermen - a consequence of both stories having the same designer, Roger Murray-Leach.


The Doctor's TARDIS is a type 40 (obsolete) protected by a 'double curtain trimonic barrier' which requires a 'cypher indent key'. The Matrix has 'exitonic circuitry' The Master uses Tricophenylaldehyde (a neural inhibitor) to feign death.

Fashion Victim

Ceremonial lipstick.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Cardinal Borusa - Angus Mackay

Castellan Spandrell - George Pravda

Chancellor Goth - Bernard Horsfall

Commander Hilred - Derek Seaton

Commentator Runcible - Hugh Walters

Co-ordinator Engin - Erik Chitty

Gold Usher - Maurice Quick

Solis - Peter Mayock

The Master - Peter Pratt

The President - Llewellyn Rees

Time Lord - John Dawson

Time Lord - Michael Bilton

Voice - Helen Blatch


Director - David Maloney

Assistant Floor Manager - Linda Graeme

Costumes - James Acheson

Costumes - Joan Ellacott

Designer - Roger Murray-Leach

Fight Arranger - Terry Walsh

Film Cameraman - Fred Hamilton

Film Editor - Ian McKendrick

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jean Williams

Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe

Production Assistant - Nicholas John

Production Unit Manager - Chris D'Oyly-John

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Brian Clemett

Studio Sound - Clive Gifford

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Len Hutton

Visual Effects - Peter Day

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Through the millennia, the Time Lords of Gallifrey led a life of peace and ordered calm, protected against all threats from lesser civilisations by their great powers...' The cornerstone of every Doctor Who story made from this point onwards, The Deadly Assassin is a complete rewrite of the series' format.

The reputation of The Deadly Assassin rests with its violence and its revelations about the Doctor's people and their culture. Politically literate and cynical ('We must adjust the truth'), the serial is the definitive text on the Time Lords. The Doctor's journey into the APC net (which takes up half of the second and all of the third episodes) is a visual and intellectual tour de force of hallucinatory images.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Deadly Assassin is a landmark Doctor Who story. 'There are many parts of Doctor Who lore... now taken for granted that saw their introduction in [this story],' wrote David Saunders in Shada 18, dated July 1984. 'It had been hinted at in The Brain of Morbius that regeneration might have its limits, but it is The Deadly Assassin which establishes the figure at twelve. The ranks and chapters of the Time Lords are outlined here for the first time, as are their ceremonial costumes and those of the Chancellery guards.'

'The revered Rassilon... and his bequeathed symbols of presidential office... have their first mentions in this Gallifreyan tale, as does the location and function of the Panopticon... This is the first serial to give actual names to individual Time Lords and we must not overlook the establishment of the Doctor as a member of the Prydonian chapter [who] was expelled from the Academy [or the fact] that the TARDIS is listed for the first time as a Type 40 capsule.'

At the time of the story's original transmission, however, many fans took the view that it contradicted the minimal details that had previously been revealed about the Doctor's race, and were absolutely infuriated by this. 'What must have happened is that at the end of The Hand of Fear the Doctor was knocked out when the TARDIS took off and had a crazy mixed up nightmare about Gallifrey,' suggested Jan Vincent-Rudzki in TARDIS Volume 2 Number 1 in 1977.

'As a Doctor Who story, The Deadly Assassin is just not worth considering. I've spoken to many people... and they all said how this story shattered their illusions of the Time Lords and lowered them to ordinary people. Once, Time Lords were all-powerful, awe-inspiring beings, capable of imprisoning planets forever in force fields, defenders of truth and good (when called in). Now, they are petty, squabbling, feeble-minded, doddering old fools. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?' These outspoken criticisms from someone who was, at the time, President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society had a very influential effect and were echoed and expanded upon by numerous other reviewers, including David Fychan in Oracle Number 12, dated September 1978:

'Here was a whole four episodes about the Time Lords; a chance to gaze deep into a society of immeasurable age; a chance to see what the Doctor left behind; an insight into the Doctor's mentality (why does he prefer the human race?) - and as such, it was incredibly, unbelievably wasted. It failed badly as anything but a thriller-SF story about an Earthly society. Time Lords were really only humans - for every emotion they showed, for every motive they possessed, there are clear parallels simply on Earth...

'What we "learnt" in The Deadly Assassin was quite revealing: no Time Ladies; a stiff caste system; a fact-adjusting society; torture; a constitution; a police force; Shabogan hooligans - all these go to make up the Gallifrey that we found...

'So, the most important question about the adventure is not "How does it fit in?" but "Is it worth trying to fit in?". The Deadly Assassin is an incongruity in Doctor Who.'

With the passage of time, the story has been re-evaluated, as was recognised by John C Harding in Frontier Worlds 9, dated June 1981: 'All civilisations rise and fall, and the idea of showing the Time Lords at the nadir of their civilisation was, in theory, a good one. At the time... I - like most fans - was incensed at this treatment of these previously god-like beings. It [was], however, a logical progression.'

'The degeneration of the Time Lord race is portrayed reasonably and realistically,' agreed Saunders, 'if one assumes that those seen in The War Games with the almost omniscient powers in fact belonged to the Celestial Intervention Agency [as referred to in this story]... This would seem to have been the reason for casting Erik Chitty and the (ever fascinating) George Pravda - I just love his intonation - as well as the two Prydonians from whom the Doctor "borrowed" his ceremonial robes. That our mysterious, pacifistic observers have now, in the main, become a bunch of old dodderers... would seem to explain the necessity of the Chancellery Guard.'

Harding also liked the way in which the principal Time Lords in this story were portrayed: 'By far my favourite character was Spandrell. Although at times the dry accent of George Pravda brought [it] close to going over the top, for the most [part] he maintained a sardonic and superbly cynical character... Cardinal Borusa (Angus MacKay) was perhaps the strongest character - a Gallifreyan Disraeli. He had the rare ability to bridge the gap between appearances and reality, although he was too ready to tip the balance in favour of appearances. He was played with disdainfully reserved authority, which is the only way to treat such a character without demeaning him: it is impossible to work behind the scenes and be seen as powerful at the same time.'

With the depiction of the Time Lords put in its proper perspective, the other aspects of the story can be judged on their own merits - which are very considerable. The scripts by Robert Holmes are well up to his usual high standard, and again draw much of their inspiration from a classic cinema film. 'The Manchurian Candidate (1962, directed by John Frankenheimer, from the novel by Richard Condon)... is the obvious source...,' pointed out Tat Wood in Perigosto Stick Issue Two, dated August 1991. 'The blindingly obvious connection, leaving aside the wholesale theft of the plot for a moment, is Commentator Runcible. The whole film is about the role of television in American politics, news management, rewriting history to create heroes, making people "remember" things that never happened, hypnosis, manipulation and paranoia in general...'

One unique feature of The Deadly Assassin is the absence of any companion character to share the adventure with the Doctor. This is particularly noticeable in the extraordinary Matrix sequences in the second and third episodes which, as noted by Harding, take Doctor Who into previously unexplored dramatic territory: 'Here was the Doctor in dashing white shirt... fighting physically in a tropical, oppressive atmosphere - the pioneer New Romantic? There was an eerie surrealism in the landscape: a surgeon in a desert with a large hypodermic; a horse wearing a gas-mask - powerfully horrific imagery... The imbalance between the two opponents worked well for the show: a well-prepared, well-kitted-out hunter with a high-powered rifle versus an unprepared, weaponless and wounded man... Obviously [this segment] was different in atmosphere from the rest of the story, but David Maloney didn't try to ignore this; he heightened its effect by making it deliberately surreal. This was a master stroke of direction which delighted me.'

The reintroduction of the Master after some three and a half years' absence from the screen works very well, and the idea of showing him in an emaciated transitional state is a good one. Peter Pratt turns in a fine performance under difficult circumstances - it can never be a very comfortable experience for an actor to have to step into the shoes of a much-admired predecessor who has met a tragic death - and this is all the more admirable given that the restrictive nature of his mask and costume leaves him to rely almost entirely on his voice.

The Deadly Assassin is, all things considered, a truly remarkable story, as Jon Blum argued on an internet newsgroup in 1997: 'There's a tremendous sense of pacing to the first episode - it actually takes place on quite a small canvass, just a few sets, but everything about the writing and direction is calculated to make the story barrel along, while at the same time giving a sense of scale. Event follows event at breakneck speed, characters like Spandrell, Engin and Hilred are introduced on the run, and a huge number of background details are slotted in unobtrusively... I wonder what the consequences for future Doctor Who would have been if they'd never brought in Rassilon, the Eye of Harmony and all that?'

< The Hand of FearFourth DoctorThe Face of Evil >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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