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24 September 2014

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Mawdryn Undead

Production Code: 6F

First Transmitted

1 - 01/02/1983 18:50

2 - 02/02/1983 18:45

3 - 08/02/1983 18:50

4 - 09/02/1983 18:45

Plot

The Black Guardian recruits a young man named Turlough to assassinate the Doctor. Although outwardly an ordinary pupil at a boys' private boarding school, Turlough is in fact an alien who believes that the Guardian will return him home if he succeeds.

The TARDIS meanwhile has its instruments jammed by a mysterious signal and is forced to materialise on board a massive spaceship in a fixed orbit. The Doctor discovers that the signal - a beam to guide the ship's transmat capsule - is being transmitted from Earth. He travels down to the planet in the capsule, leaving Nyssa and Tegan in the TARDIS with the co-ordinates pre-set to follow.

Things go wrong, however, as the Doctor arrives in 1983 but the TARDIS materialises in 1977. Tegan and Nyssa encounter a man with a badly burned body and think that this could be the Doctor.

Tegan goes for medical aid and runs into the Doctor's old friend the Brigadier, now retired from UNIT and working as a maths teacher at the school. They join Nyssa and, at the mysterious stranger's urging, use the TARDIS to travel up to the spaceship.

The stranger is actually Mawdryn, one of a group of alien mutants travelling endlessly in a state of perpetual regeneration brought upon themselves through the use of a stolen Time Lord device.

The Doctor takes Turlough and the 1983 version of the Brigadier up to the ship in the transmat capsule. He reluctantly agrees to supply from his own body the energy needed to end the mutants' ordeal, even though this will mean the loss of his remaining regenerations.

In the event, however, the energy comes not from the Doctor but from an explosion caused when the two Brigadiers meet.

Episode Endings

Turlough, responding to the Black Guardian's exhortations, picks up a large rock and prepares to smash it down on the back of the Doctor's head.

Tegan, Nyssa and the Brigadier enter the TARDIS control room. Mawdryn, now wearing the Doctor's old coat, turns to face them. The top of his skull is missing, revealing his pulsing brain. Nyssa screams.

The mutants take their places in the regeneration room and Mawdryn pleads with the Doctor to help them die by giving them his energy. The Doctor refuses, explaining to Tegan that if he does so it will be the end of him as a Time Lord.

The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan deliver the 1983 version of the Brigadier back home. Turlough is in the TARDIS control room when they return. He asks if he can join them, and the Doctor comments that he already has. In space, Mawdryn's ship self-destructs.

Roots

The Flying Dutchman.

If...

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Prometheus.

Star Trek's The Alternative Factor.

Dialogue Triumphs

Tegan : "Maybe the capsule's malfunctioned. I hate those transmat things. Like travelling in a food mixer and just as dangerous. I'd be afraid of coming out puréed."

Mawdryn : "Perpetual regeneration."

Nyssa : "Regeneration? You don't mean it's happening again?"

Mawdryn : "Life without end or form. Changing. Changing."

The Brigadier : "Are we stuck on this ship?"

The Doctor : "I wonder... if I reverse the polarity of the neutron flow..."

Continuity

Turlough is clearly not of Earth, and the headmaster says that his parents are dead. He deals with a 'very strange' solicitor in London (see Planet of Fire). Turlough seems to wish to return home (see The King's Demons, Planet of Fire). He enters into a pact with the Black Guardian, seen for the first time since The Armageddon Factor.

The Brigadier talks of 30 years of soldiering, and has a photograph of himself from his UNIT days. He says that Sgt. Benton left the army in 1979 to sell second hand cars, and that Harry Sullivan had been seconded to NATO and was last heard of doing something 'hush hush' at Porton Down.

The Brigadier left UNIT in 1976 and started teaching at a public school. Shortly after, he appeared to suffer from a nervous breakdown, actually caused by meeting his future self, and many of his memories of UNIT were temporarily lost. The Brigadier states on two separate occasions that he has seen the Doctor regenerate twice [but this isn't strictly correct as he only witnessed the effect of the second Doctor's regeneration].

When people from two different time zones touch there is a large explosion of energy as the time differential is 'shorted', known as the Blinovitch limitation effect (see also Day of the Daleks, where it is described in different terms). Presumably Time Lords are immune to this (cf The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors).

The transmat capsule shares certain properties with the TARDIS, most notably dimensional transcendence, and the transmat beam interferes with the TARDIS workings. [Although not explicitly stated, the action on Mawdryn's ship towards the end of the story must take place in 1983, or else there would be no spacecraft for the Doctor to avoid at the beginning, and no capsule for Turlough to discover.] Tegan, for some reason, has a graphic knowledge of the potential danger of transmats [an untelevised adventure?].

Tegan takes a TARDIS homing device with her (see Full Circle, The Visitation), and mention is made of the fact that the TARDIS no longer has a Zero Room (Castrovalva). Despite that, the atmosphere of the TARDIS helps Mawdryn to stabilise (see the Doctor's comments in The Power of the Daleks).

Mawdryn stole a metamorphic symbiosis regenerator, used by Time Lords in cases of acute regenerative crisis, but it induced a perpetual, deathless mutation. He and his fellow scientists were exiled from their homeworld, but their research could come up with no cure. Every 70 years the beacon guides the ship to within transmat rage of the Earth, and one mutant travels down to Earth to see if help can be sought.

The mutants felt abandoned by the Time Lords. If the Doctor were to sacrifice his remaining regenerations their plight could be ended. The Doctor states once more that he can only regenerate 12 times, and has done so four times already (see The Deadly Assassin). The power to save Mawdryn and the others from their undead existence and to cure Tegan and Nyssa of the viral equivalent that rendered time travel impossible eventually comes from the Blinovitch limitation effect, although a line of dialogue indicates that the TARDIS had a role in this as well.

QV

Dating the UNIT Stories

Location

Mawdryn's ship [1983].

Brendon School, 1977 and 1983.

Links

Trivia

The Doctor's reaction is remarkable when Nyssa enters the TARDIS control room in Part One. Presumably it is because of her new outfit...

A flashback sequence of clips from earlier stories is shown when the 1983 version of the Brigadier, who has been suffering the effects of a nervous breakdown, regains his memory of the Doctor.

Former producer Graham Williams, the creator of the Guardians, did not know about their return in this season and learned about it only years later during an on-stage interview at a Doctor Who convention.

Technobabble

Lots of stuff about Mawdryn's ship being trapped in a warp ellipse, little of which makes sense 'Could it have been effected by a tangential deviation coming out of the warp ellipse?' 'Not with the dead reckoning alignment in the coordinates.' The Doctor talks about reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.

Goofs

When talking to Turlough in the TARDIS in the fourth episode the Black Guardian appears to spit on himself.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Peter Davison

Nyssa - Sarah Sutton

Tegan - Janet Fielding

Turlough - Mark Strickson

1st Mutant - Peter Walmsley

2nd Mutant - Brian Darnley

Black Guardian - Valentine Dyall

Doctor Runciman - Roger Hammond

Headmaster - Angus MacKay

Ibbotson - Stephen Garlick

Matron - Sheila Gill

Mawdryn - David Collings

The Brigadier - Nicholas Courtney

Crew

Director - Peter Moffatt

Assistant Floor Manager - Ian Tootle

Costumes - Amy Roberts

Costumes - Richard Croft

Designer - Stephen Scott

Film Cameraman - Godfrey Johnson

Film Editor - Chris Woolley

Incidental Music - Paddy Kingsland

Make-Up - Sheelagh Wells

Make-Up - Carolyn Perry

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Valerie Letley

Production Associate - June Collins

Script Editor - Eric Saward

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Don Babbage

Studio Sound - Martin Ridout

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

Visual Effects - Stuart Brisdon

Writer - Peter Grimwade

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Oh, I know how many beans make five, Doctor. And you don't have to be a Time Lord to cope with 'A' level Maths.' The links to the past aren't over-done, and a story (briefly) taking place in two time zones was an idea long overdue. It's nice to have an adventure where someone doesn't want to destroy the Universe or take over the Earth, although this does mean that the final episode is a bit dull.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Mawdryn Undead is arguably one of the most ambitious stories that Doctor Who ever attempted. It utilises the time travel aspect of the series to the full and tackles head on an idea that had been only toyed with before - that of an adventure taking place in two time zones, with events in the earlier one affecting those in the later one.

Considering that Ian K McLachlan disliked the excellent Snakedance, his reaction to Mawdryn Undead in TARDIS Volume 8 Number 1, dated March 1983 is interesting: 'For me it was the best Davison story to date. It had an unusual plot, the return of the good old Brigadier, the marvellous Valentine Dyall,... terrific... incidental music, a highly original plot, a set of very suspenseful episodes... I could go on. The magic of Doctor Who for me was embodied in Mawdryn Undead.'

A part of the story's appeal lies in its complexity. Not only has writer Peter Grimwade chosen to weave an intricate web of interaction between the two time zones, he has also been required by the production team to make this story the first part of the Guardian trilogy and to introduce a new companion for the Doctor in the person of Turlough. On top of all this, he has come up with Mawdryn and his band of shuffling mutants. These tragic characters are somewhat ill defined but, as McLachlan observed, have a unique motivation: 'For once the "baddies" didn't want to take over the Earth, but just wanted to die. A new idea in Doctor Who. But then Peter Grimwade doesn't write conventional scripts.'

Yet another element in the mix is the return of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier - a popular move with many of the series' fans. 'Mawdryn Undead was definitely the best [of the Guardian trilogy],' commented Andrew Evans in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988, 'due in no small part to the fact that it marked the return to the programme after eight years of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. What was rather difficult to swallow, however, was that he is now teaching mathematics in a boys' public school! Not exactly what one would have predicted for the former UNIT commander. It would have made more sense if he had turned up in a military academy.'

The inclusion of the Brigadier actually gives rise to perhaps the most hotly debated and criticised aspect of the story - that the dates specified in it are completely at odds with the fairly well established time frame in which the UNIT adventures of the second, third and fourth Doctors' eras took place. To recap briefly, season six's The Invasion was set about four years after season five's The Web of Fear, which in turn was set some forty years after the same season's The Abominable Snowmen, which was stated to have taken place in 1935.

This means that the date in The Invasion must have been about 1979, which implies that the third Doctor's sojourn on Earth must have occurred in the early eighties. Sarah Jane Smith actually states in season thirteen's Pyramids of Mars that she comes from 1980 which, making allowances for possible imprecision on her part, more or less ties in with this. According to Mawdryn Undead, however, the Brigadier has already retired from UNIT and taken up a new career as a maths teacher by 1977. This is probably the biggest continuity gaffe ever made in the series.

It is nevertheless good to see the Brigadier making a return to the series, and Nicholas Courtney gives an excellent performance in his unusual dual role. Of the other members of the guest cast the most notable by far is David Collings, whose casting as Mawdryn was inspired. Especially memorable are the scenes in which the character is seen blackened and bloodied from his experiences in the transmat capsule - a tribute, too, to the artistry of the make-up team, as is the later scene in which Tegan and Nyssa are subjected to rapid ageing.

Some reviewers have found Mawdryn Undead's undeniable complexity a bit much to take. Richard Patey, another of those writing in TARDIS Volume 8 Number 1, was puzzled: 'Why was Turlough on Earth? What is the full story behind the mutants? Why did they wear pizzas on their heads? I can only assume that all will be answered later in the series.' Most, however, have been far more complimentary about the story. Paul West was particularly generous in his praise in Shada 14, dated March/April 1983: 'Mawdryn Undead was a superb story... Inevitably there are parts of it I could nit-pick at, notably Nyssa's and Tegan's failure to notice that Mawdryn's burnt body wasn't a bit like the Doctor's, but despite this I feel everything came together to make this, without doubt, a classic Doctor Who story.'

Despite the overloading of the scripts, the story does ultimately work and is never less than enjoyable. A tribute, perhaps, to Peter Grimwade's skills as a writer.

< SnakedanceFifth DoctorTerminus >

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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