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Full Circle

Production Code: 5R

First Transmitted

1 - 25/10/1980 17:40

2 - 01/11/1980 17:40

3 - 08/11/1980 17:40

4 - 15/11/1980 17:40


The TARDIS falls through a CVE into E-Space and arrives on the planet Alzarius. There the inhabitants of a crashed Starliner and a group of young rebels called the Outlers, led by a boy named Varsh and including his brother Adric, are being terrorised by a race of Marshmen who emerge from the marshes at a time known as Mistfall.

The Doctor discovers that the Starliner's inhabitants are not the descendants of its original crew, as has been claimed by their leaders the Deciders, but evolved Marshmen. With the Time Lord's help and encouragement, the Starliner is repaired and able to leave the planet.

Episode Endings

The Doctor and K9 look on as Marshmen emerge from the waters of the Alzarian marsh and start to move toward them.

As marsh spiders scuttle toward her, Romana picks up a river fruit with which to defend herself. Suddenly the fruit splits open and another marsh spider emerges, landing on her cheek. She fends it off but almost immediately falls to the ground, unconscious.

Romana, having been infected by the marsh spider, opens an emergency escape hatch on board the Starliner. Marshmen start to pour into the ship.

K9 confirms Romana's observation to the Doctor that unless they find another CVE, they are trapped. The TARDIS scanner screen displays the green-hued vista of E-Space.


The Creature from the Black Lagoon.


The Fifth Head of Cerberus.

Dialogue Triumphs

Romana : "The Time Lords want me back."

The Doctor : "Yes, well, you only came to help with the Key to Time."

Romana : "Doctor, I don't want to spend the rest of my life on Gallifrey - after all this!"

The Doctor : "Well, you can't fight Time Lords, Romana."

Romana : "You did, once."

The Doctor : "And lost."

Nefred : "Seek out the Doctor. He can teach you to fly the Starliner. It is my wish that you all leave Alzarius."

Login : "And return to Terradon?"

Nefred : "No, we cannot return to Terradon."

Garif : "If the Doctor shows us how?"

Nefred : "We cannot return."

Login : "Why?"

Nefred : "Because... we have never been there."

Nefred : "Garif, we must live up to our names. We must make this decision - together."

Gariff : "'Yes, of course. But you will agree, it does require some thought."


The Doctor and Romana are summoned to Gallifrey, although the recall circuit (see The Deadly Assassin, Arc of Infinity) is not used as the Doctor asks K9 to set the course (the binary coordinates are 1001100 zero by 02 from galactic zero centre, as in Pyramids of Mars). [Perhaps the threat is enough ('We can't resist a summons to Gallifrey,' notes the Doctor).]

When the image translator is replaced it confirms the Doctor's worse fears: they have passed through a Charged Vacuum Emboitement into Exo-space, an entirely different Universe. Nothing else is revealed about CVEs in this story, apart from their incredible rarity (see Logopolis).

Romana says that the TARDIS weighs 5x106 kilos 'in your gravity' (i.e. 50,000 tonnes) [but, given that the marsh people can carry it, and that in other stories it clearly has a comparable physical exterior to a police box, Romana must be forgetting her temporal physics. This must be the weight of the full ('inside') TARDIS rather than its seeming weight on Alzarius].

The Doctor says that short trips usually don't work, and that reversing them is even more difficult, but he manages the required journeys (see, for example, Planet of Evil).

The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the starliner's doors. Adric is given a homing device in order to find the TARDIS again (see The Chase, The Visitation), and receives his brother's Outler belt of marsh-reed.

A ship from Terradon (also in E-space according to Earthshock) crashed on Alzarius, a planet of hyper-evolutionary creatures. The Terradonians were replaced by the humanoid Alzarians (i.e. the marsh men), but were unable to make the starliner take off.

The evolving society (a 'type D oligarchy') lives in fear of Mistfall, a period every 50 years or so, when the influence of another planet takes Alzarius away from the sun's warmth. This acts as a 'trigger' to the marsh creatures to emerge onto the land. During this period the people, ignorant of their true heritage, shut themselves away in the starliner. The spiders will eventually evole into marsh men [their poison establishes a symbiotic link with the marsh creatures].

The people believe that they are Terradonians, and that they have been stranded there for 40 generations, but are gradually mending their ship. In actual fact, the ship is completely operational, and successions of advanced Alzarians have lived around the starliner for 4000 generations [approximately 140,000 years].


The TARDIS Scanner


Alzarius, E-space.



The kidnapped human from the previous story has now been returned to Earth.


There is no voice credit for K9 on Part Three as he does not speak in this episode, owing to his head having been knocked off by the Marshmen.

Alan Rowe makes his final Doctor Who appearance, as Garif. He had previously appeared as Doctor Evans and the voice of Space Control in season four's The Moonbase, Edward of Wessex in season eleven's The Time Warrior and as Skinsale in season fifteen's Horror of Fang Rock.

George Baker, who went on to star as Inspector Wexford in the TVS police drama series The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, plays Login.

Adric's name was suggested by script editor Christopher H Bidmead as an anagram of that of eminent physicist P A M Dirac (who in 1930 was the first to predict the existence of antimatter).


The Marshmen have cuffs.

The technology of Gallifrey and Alzarius/Terradon is very interchangable.

When Romana asks the Doctor 'What was that noise?' in episode one, it might be the fly that's buzzing around his head.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Adric - Matthew Waterhouse

Romana - Lalla Ward

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Dexeter - Tony Calvin

Draith - Leonard Maguire

Garif - Alan Rowe

Keara - June Page

Login - George Baker

Marshchild - Norman Bacon

Marshman - Barney Lawrence

Nefred - James Bree

Omril - Andrew Forbes

Rysik - Adrian Gibbs

Tylos - Bernard Padden

Varsh - Richard Willis


Director - Peter Grimwade

Assistant Floor Manager - Alex Bridcut

Assistant Floor Manager - Lynn Richards

Costumes - Amy Roberts

Designer - Janet Budden

Executive Producer - Barry Letts

Film Cameraman - Max Samett

Film Editor - Mike Houghton

Incidental Music - Paddy Kingsland

Make-Up - Frances Needham

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Susan Box

Production Unit Manager - Angela Smith

Script Editor - Christopher H Bidmead

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - John Holmes

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Peter Howell

Visual Effects - John Brace

Writer - Andrew Smith

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'How odd. I usually get on terribly well with children.' A brilliantly constructed tale, blessed with good visuals and a cracking pace. There's scarcely a shot or a line that isn't needed.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

After the major disappointment of Meglos, the eighteenth season gets back on track with Full Circle. As Peter Anghelides put it in TARDIS Volume 5 Number 6 in 1981: 'The new season promised much, and in Full Circle all the hopes of an excellent set of new stories have been realised. What makes it all the more impressive is that it is what might be defined as a "fan story", written by someone with a knowledge [of] and an obvious regard for the show.' Andrew Smith was indeed the first fan of Doctor Who to have had a story accepted for the series - a notable achievement, notwithstanding the fact that he already had several other professional writing credits to his name by this point - and his affection for the series shines through in his work. This adds considerably to the story's effectiveness - although Martin Wiggins, writing in Ark in Space No. 5, dated spring 1981, felt that Smith sometimes allowed his enthusiasm to get the better of him:

'Full Circle... is very much a story written by a fan for fans. Occasionally this got out of control - the first scene, for example, contained the Doctor's pointless prattle about The Invasion of Time, which was annoying because it was an ostentatious way of showing how continuity was being kept to and nothing more, when it could have been an interesting piece of discourse - Romana must have known of, or even known, Leela before she left Gallifrey, and one wonders how a confirmed wanderer, such as scene two showed her to be, would react to someone who voluntarily chose to spend the rest of her life on [that planet].'

Wiggins also detected some religious inspiration in the story, as he went on to detail: 'The story presented a mish-mash of themes from the Book of Exodus (for example, the Procedure of Mistfall reflects the first Passover in Egypt) and this was heightened by the religious quality of [the incidental music] Paddy Kingsland used for the hall of books. It was no surprise to find Moses/Nefred dying before reaching Terradon, the final stages being supervised by his lieutenant Joshua/Login.'

Whether or not Smith consciously intended these parallels is open to question, but there is no denying that his scripts for the story are well written and thematically rich. Indeed they seem to have positively inspired director Peter Grimwade and everyone else involved in the production, as the on-screen realisation of the story is virtually faultless. 'A good plot needs to be exploited by fine acting,' pointed out Anghelides, 'and everyone in the cast was convincing in the many and varied parts. The [walk-ons] showed refreshing enthusiasm, and the acting of the youngsters was particularly [good]. The main characters were rounded and believable, even though they were not necessarily on view at all times, and the secret of revelation of character by what they say seems to be one of Andrew Smith's strengths. Notice too how the deaths were well handled - the two Deciders' deaths were moving and believable, and the deaths of the two children, including Adric's brother, were effective and not overly dramatic. Tom Baker proved all his critics wrong this time, giving an excellent portrayal of the Time Lord...'

Gary Hopkins, writing in The Doctor Who Review Issue 8, dated December 1980, was equally enthusiastic about Tom Baker's performance, and about Lalla Ward's too: 'The principals... were as good as ever. The Doctor in Part Three facing up to [the scientist] Dexeter as he began his experiments on the Marshchild, and then roaring his accusations at the Deciders, was magnificent stuff... Tom Baker at his spine-tingling best... Romana too came over tremendously, especially in the first scenes in the TARDIS bedroom... and also later on when under the influence of the spider bite. It's nice to see Lalla having a chance to do more than just her usual "goody-goody" act, which can get just a little bit wearing.'

The story's principal monsters, the Marshmen, look good, despite having rather conventional 'man-in-a-rubber-suit' type costumes, and are very well directed by Grimwade. Hopkins was again enthusiastic: 'The beautiful final scene of [Part One], with a group of mud-encrusted Marshmen rising gracefully and, for one moment, in slow motion, from the marshes, must surely have brought a thrill of delight to even the most die-hardened fan... The design of the Marshmen - though not exactly original, with more than a shade of the Creature from the Black Lagoon and even the Silurians - was convincing, unlike recent creations such as the Mandrels, the Nimons and the Foamasi... Only the most resilient cynic could have looked at the Marshchild's confusion as it was caught between two groups of humans in Part Two without some sympathy and sadness. Its death scene in the following episode was tinged with both relief and sorrow, as the creature died cut off from its own kind, alone, mistreated and abused, in the shattered remains of a clinical laboratory.'

One aspect of the production on which opinions differ is the depiction of the marsh spiders. Hopkins was impressed: 'The crab-spiders show just how much the BBC have improved in recent years with this sort of visual effect. Except for one or two dodgy scenes, [they] were totally convincing as they scuttled across the cave floor. A scene that will live for quite a while with me involved Romana picking up a river-fruit, ostensibly to defend herself from the encroaching spiders, when it splits open, depositing a rather large and nasty spider on to the side of her face. Classic stuff.' Frank Danes, on the other hand, was less than complimentary in Fendahl 13, dated November/December 1980: 'Where the special effects boys failed was in the creation of the spiders. Legs pedalling furiously, glowing eyes, long white fangs reminded one of a toy from Woolworth's rather than a Doctor Who monster.'

Danes was rather more generous in his comments on the Doctor's new companion, who actually shows little promise in this story: 'Adric was interesting. He was very well introduced, as a misfit in his brother's Outlers, and blended into the story rather well. Matthew Waterhouse isn't the best of young actors, but he's by no means the worst, and gave a fairly pleasing performance. The death of his brother showed Matthew at his best.' Be this as it may, one can only wonder how different things could've been had Richard Willis's superb Varsh survived to travel on with the Doctor.

The final word must go to Hopkins, whose overall assessment of the story was spot on: 'From its superb beginning in the TARDIS, with brilliant performances from Tom and Lalla as Romana realises that the Time Lords want her back on Gallifrey, right through to the final scene of Part Four, with the realisation that they are stuck in [E-Space], Full Circle was a joy to behold, a story that fans and casual viewers alike are sure to remember for some time.'

< MeglosFourth DoctorState of Decay >

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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