BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

State of Decay

Production Code: 5P

First Transmitted

1 - 22/11/1980 17:40

2 - 29/11/1980 17:40

3 - 06/12/1980 17:40

4 - 13/12/1980 17:40


The Doctor, Romana, K9 and Adric - an Outler from Alzarius who has stowed away aboard the TARDIS - arrive on a planet where the native villagers live in fear of 'the Wasting' and of three Lords named Zargo, Camilla and Aukon who rule from an imposing Tower. The Lords are soon revealed to be vampire servants of the last of the Great Vampires, a race referred to in Time Lord mythology.

The Great Vampire is about to be revived from its resting place beneath the Tower - in fact the spaceship in which the Lords, in their original human forms, came to E-Space - but the Doctor launches one of the ship's three shuttle craft and it pierces the heart of the creature, killing it. The Lords, deprived of their master, crumble to dust.

Episode Endings

The Doctor and Romana are making their through the forest to the Tower when suddenly they are assailed by bats. Romana points out to the Doctor that the sky is full of the creatures.

The Doctor and Romana are exploring a cavern beneath the Tower when they encounter Aukon, who tells them that this is the 'resting place' and welcomes them to his domain.

Camilla and Zargo menace Romana and Adric, intending to drink their blood. Adric throws a knife at Zargo, and it hits him in the chest. Camilla then advances on the boy while Zargo, seizing the retreating Romana, pulls the still bloodless knife from his chest and drops it to the floor.

The time travellers depart in the TARDIS, the Doctor telling Adric that he must now be taken straight back home.


The vampire genre (K9 mentions 'the legend of Count Dracula'), especially Vampire Circus (vampires killing children), Kiss of the Vampire and the rest of Hammer vampire cycle (the castle, the villagers terrified of strangers, etc.).

Camilla's name and particular interest in Romana (and her name) suggests the lesbian undertones of J.Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 story 'Carmilla' and such films as The Vampire Lovers, Vampyres: Daughters of Darkness and the work of Jean Rollin.

The Doctor (mis)quotes Henry V ('He who outlives this day and comes safe home shall stand a tiptoe when this day is named and rouse him at the name of E-Space!') and Hamlet ('That is the question').

There is also a misquote of Pope's 'Essay on Man' ('What is, is wrong') and references to Browning's 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came'.

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

Lest Darkness Fall.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Night must fall, Romana, even in E-Space."

Romana : "It doesn't feel natural. There's that noise again."

The Doctor : "Only bats. Quite harmless." [A bat swoops down and bites him on the neck.] "Argh! Well, in theory. That one was a bit carnivorous."

Romana : [To the Doctor] "You are incredible."

The Doctor : "Well, yes, I suppose I am. I've never given it much thought."

The Doctor : [To Romana] "Psst, you are wonderful."

Romana : "Suppose I am. I've never really thought about it."


K9 says the planet has a day equivalent to 23.3 earth hours, a year to 350 earth days. The planet has remained unchanged for thousands of years [if the Doctor is correct about the Time Lord war with the Great Vampires taking place 'back in the misty dawn of history, when Rassilon was young', it could be millions of years: see 'The Trial of a Time Lord']. The lords protect the villagers from 'the wasting'.

The Earth ship Hydrax was en route to Beta Two in the Perugellis sector when it was drawn through the CVE into E-space by the Great Vampire, using the science officer Anthony O'Connor as a conduit.

K 9 states that there are 18348 emergency procedures in the TARDIS data core and that his memory contains vampire legends from 17 inhabited planets.

The Doctor tells Romana 'There was once an old hermit from the mountains of South Gallifrey... ' [see The Time Monster and Planet of the Spiders, as these references are generally taken to refer to K'Anpo]. The hermit used to tell the Doctor ghost stories, one of which concerned the war with the Giant Vampires ('They came out of nowhere and swarmed... all over the universe').

Romana says she used to work in the Bureau of Ancient Records and once saw a reference to 'The Record of Rassilon'. This, the Doctor discovers, is held in all type 40 TARDISes on magnetic card. It describes how Rassilon created bow ships which fired bolts of steel to kill the vampires and that all except one were destroyed. A directive states that the vampires are 'the enemy of our people, and of all living things'. Vampire cardiovascular systems are very complex and hence they can only be killed by a direct blow to the heart.


The Origins of the Time Lords


An unnamed planet in E-space, [c.2929].



This story features the largest quantities of blood ever seen in a Doctor Who story - by a considerable margin!

For the only time during his era as the Doctor, Tom Baker had to have his hair permed before filming commenced. It had lost its natural curl due to the actor being in ill health.


This story's location scenes were shot at Black Park near Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire. (They were shot at Burnham Beeches near Amersham, also in Buckinghamshire - it was Full Circle's location scenes that were shot at Black Park.)


A 'technacothaka' is said to be a museum.


The Doctor says the Tower decor is rococo when actually it's late Saxon/early Romanesque.

In episode three, a rebel bursts into the Doctor's cell, catching him across the nose with the door (Tom Baker appears slightly stunned, and misses his next cue).

Why is Kalmar so concerned to get back to Earth when he and his people have never been there?

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Adric - Matthew Waterhouse

Romana - Lalla Ward

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Aukon - Emrys James

Camilla - Rachel Davies

Habris - Ian Rattray

Ivo - Clinton Greyn

Kalmar - Arthur Hewlett

Karl - Dean Allen

Mart - Rhoda Lewis

Roga - Stuart Fell

Tarak - Thane Bettany

Veros - Stacy Davies

Zargo - William Lindsay

Zoldaz - Stuart Blake


Director - Peter Moffatt

Assistant Floor Manager - Lynn Richards

Costumes - Amy Roberts

Designer - Christine Ruscoe

Executive Producer - Barry Letts

Fight Arranger - Stuart Fell

Film Cameraman - Fintan Sheehan

Film Editor - John Lee

Incidental Music - Paddy Kingsland

Make-Up - Norma Hill

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Rosalind Wolfes

Production Unit Manager - Angela Smith

Script Editor - Christopher H Bidmead

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Bert Postlethwaite

Studio Sound - John Howell

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

Visual Effects - Tony Harding

Writer - Terrance Dicks

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Do you know, it just occurs to me, there are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet?... Creatures that stalk the night and feast on the blood of the living.' A smashing evocation of a traditional horror story, worked into the Doctor Who formula.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Following on from the excellent Full Circle, State of Decay is another story that - apart from a single unsuccessful model shot in Part Four - looks absolutely superb on screen, as Rosemary Fowler described in Oracle Volume 3 Number 9, dated May 1981:

'The whole production was given a definite atmosphere of gloom and foreboding by the darkly lit sets of the Tower, and the sumptuous, though sombre, dark grey and red costumes of the "Three Who Rule". I really liked their medieval-style robes and felt that they helped to underline the sense of separateness between them and the ragged peasants.

'Most of the visual effects were well executed, particularly the superimposing of the bat over Aukon's face near the end of [Part One]. Indeed, all the bat scenes were very well done; one area where most vampire films fall down to earth with a thud... I am... grateful that they decided against showing a full-sized version of the Great Vampire. However, on a note of praise, the final sequence of the disintegration of the lesser vampires was as good if not better than the best efforts of Hammer Films.'

The story's suitably atmospheric location work is also a highlight, and director Peter Moffatt brings out some good performances from a fine guest cast. Fowler found Emrys Jones's Aukon particularly impressive: 'Emrys Jones gave a very creditable performance as Aukon, the real leader of the "Three". Where Camilla and Zargo were merely power mad, jealous freaks, who spent most of their time hissing at people and baring their fangs without ever once getting down to draining anyone's blood, Aukon was a subtle blend of the disciple of the Great One and the worldly, practical dictator.

He was the one who was concerned to prepare all for the Time of Arising, he also the one whom the peasants were most in awe of. One can't help feeling that Camilla and Zargo were merely ornaments in the social structure of that claustrophobic community, the ones to distract the attention away from the more powerful Chancellor.'

Martin J Wiggins, writing in Web Planet Number 6 in 1981, considered the story reminiscent of the early part of the fourth Doctor's era: 'State of Decay was an affectionate tip of the hat to Philip Hinchcliffe, who introduced gothic horror to Doctor Who. Indeed, this serial could have been more successful even than those he produced, for while he instigated take-offs of the horrific fictions of individual writers' minds... the source for State of Decay was a horror more deeply ingrained, a genuine primitive fear rather than one created for the satisfaction of those seeking to be frightened.'

Tim Robins found much to admire in Terrance Dicks's scripts, as he explained in The Doctor Who Review Issue 8, dated December 1980:

'I don't think I can remember a story that was as well plotted... Terrance Dicks masterfully avoided the terrible plot cliches that were inherent in the story. The tower was a spaceship, the Lords vampires, commanders of the spaceship still alive after thousands of years. A lesser writer would have hinged the entire plot around these "surprises" which would, naturally, not have been revealed until an extremely rushed Part Four. But no. Terrance Dicks dispensed with these revelations in throwaway lines liberally scattered throughout the opening episodes and in doing so produced an enthralling plot - one of the few stories that has kept my interest through every single episode.'

Even so, Robins was in accord with Wiggins in feeling that the story was let down by its ending: 'The only place where I feel [it] slipped up, almost inevitably, was [Part Four]. Although it didn't sink into sheer awfulness like The Leisure Hive and... Meglos, several scenes seemed out of focus with the quality of the previous three episodes. K9 made me squirm with embarrassment, particularly when the rebels' leader Ivo... decided to apologise to it.' Geraint Jones, writing in TARDIS Volume 5 Number 6 in 1981, likewise thought that while the story was 'one of the most enjoyable, and certainly best produced... for a very long time', it was 'ultimately a disappointment' due to 'a wasted last episode' with a very predictable ending.

These criticisms seem somewhat churlish. After all, a vampire story would not be a vampire story without the obligatory denouement involving stakes through the heart and the undead crumbling to dust before the heroes' eyes; anything less would be a disappointment. And at least here the whole thing is given a Doctor Who twist with the revelation that the Great Vampire and its kind were ancient enemies of the Time Lords.

State of Decay certainly has atmosphere in abundance. Scenes such as the one in which the Doctor runs up a hill to the TARDIS, and then accesses the antiquated Record of Rassilon to find out more about the vampires, are highly evocative. There are some great directorial touches here, including the stylised, almost choreographed movements of the three Lords and the aforementioned moment when a slow-motion shot of a bat in flight is superimposed over an image of Aukon.

Tim Robins, however, remained less than fully satisfied: 'State of Decay was brilliant, but where was the moral? "Don't fall through E-Space or you'll get your neck bitten"? [It] was a great horror story but, when you think about it, it was rotten science-fiction. But then, Doctor Who has ceased being that. I did, however, enjoy it, and if any story this season deserves praise this one does. Just one question - what the heck was "the Wasting"?'

< Full CircleFourth DoctorWarriors' Gate >

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.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy