Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Story 125 - Mawdryn Undead


In which the TARDIS almost collides with a massive spaceship in orbit above 20th Century Earth. The Doctor makes an emergency landing on the vessel. It is luxuriously decorated, but appears to be empty. Something on board is jamming the TARDIS systems, and the Doctor traces this to a transmat capsule. Meanwhile, on the planet below, it is 1983. At Brendon School the rebellious pupil Turlough decides to go joyriding in the vintage car belonging to his mathematics tutor. The vehicle crashes, and Turlough suddenly finds himself in a strange void - looking down at his own prostrate body. He is not alone, as the Black Guardian of Time is here. He is seeking revenge upon the Doctor and enlists the boy's help in achieving this. The Guardian knows that Turlough is really an alien, stranded on Earth, and he offers to take him away from here if he kills the Doctor. The young man accepts, and is returned to the scene of the accident where he lies unconscious. The car belongs to Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart - now retired from UNIT and teaching here. The Doctor decides to travel down by transmat alone to cancel out the signal that is holding the TARDIS on the spaceship. Tegan and Nyssa will be able to follow him in the ship once this has been done. The Doctor arrives in the grounds of the school in 1983, but something goes wrong and the TARDIS materialises at the same location - but in 1977. Tegan discovers this when she goes looking for the Doctor and finds preparations under way to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee.


She meets an earlier version of the Brigadier, when he had first joined the school. The Doctor has met the current version - and is alarmed to find that he does not know him. Some terrible trauma must have afflicted him for him to have closed off these memories. He also meets Turlough, and is intrigued by the boy's casual acceptance of sophisticated alien technology. Turlough tries to kill the Doctor, but fails. In 1977, a horribly disfigured man enters the TARDIS. He claims to be the Doctor, suffering from a regeneration crisis brought on by travelling in the transmat capsule. He insists that Tegan and Nyssa take him to the spaceship where he should find a means of restoring himself. Tegan is unsure, but Nyssa decides they must help in case it really is the Doctor. The 1977 Brigadier insists on joining them. They arrive back on the vessel, in 1983. The Doctor is able to help the 1983 Brigadier regain his memories of his UNIT days. He recalls meeting Tegan 6 years previously, and he has the TARDIS locator device which she left behind. The Doctor can use this, linked to the transmat capsule, to get back to his ship. The Brigadier and Turlough accompany him - the Brigadier positive that he didn't go with Tegan and Nyssa back in 1977. For the two Brigadiers to encounter themselves in the same time zone would be catastrophic.


The spaceship proves not to be empty after all. In stasis aboard are a group of Kastron scientists, who reawaken. The disfigured man who claimed to be the Doctor is one of them - Mawdryn. These men stole Time Lord technology and used it to become immortal, but they were cast out by their society and now long for death. Every 50 years the ship comes to a planet where help might be found, and one of them travels down to seek it out. Mawdryn claims that the Doctor, as a Time Lord, can free them of their curse - by sacrificing his remaining regenerations. The Doctor refuses but when he tries to leave in the TARDIS he finds that both Tegan and Nyssa have been infected with their mutation. They will age to death if he travels forward in time, or regress to childhood if he goes back in time. He must do as they wish. On learning that there are two Brigadiers on the ship, he has Turlough waylay the 1977 one to keep him from meeting his later self. The Brigadier gives him the slip. Just as the Doctor is about to link up with the Kastrons and their stolen technology - a Metamorphic Symbiosis Regenerator - the two Brigadiers meet and the temporal differential is cancelled out. This renders the 1977 Brigadier unconscious - and proves to have been the cause of his memory loss. It also causes the Kastrons to become mortal once more and begin to die. The Doctor must take the two Brigadiers back to their respective time streams, whilst the spaceship is destroyed along with its occupants. Tegan and Nyssa are cured of the mutation, and the 1983 Brigadier now knows what happened to him 6 years ago. Turlough is found in the TARDIS, and the Doctor agrees to let him travel with them. He is still under the control of the Black Guardian, who had hoped to see the Doctor lose his future regenerations to the Kastrons. Turlough must still complete his contract to kill the Doctor...


This four part adventure was written by Peter Grinwade, and was broadcast between 1st and 9th February, 1983. The story marks the first appearance of new companion Turlough - played by Mark Strickson - and the return to the programme of Nicholas Courtney, as the Brigadier, and of Valentine Dyall, playing the Black Guardian once more.
Mawdryn Undead opens what has become known as the Black Guardian Trilogy. Turlough is set up as a potential enemy rather than a friend - someone out to kill the Doctor and who is secretly working for the Guardian. Of course, as has been pointed out by Strickson, Peter Davison, and scrip editor Eric Saward, this aspect of the character just cannot go anywhere. He can't kill the Doctor (obviously) so it just means that he has to keep failing to destroy him. In the next story they will get round this by parking him in an air duct for half the running time.
Whilst it is nice to see the Brigadier back again - his first appearance since the final episode of Terror of the Zygons - the school setting gives a clue as to who the real guest star was supposed to be. This is the 20th Anniversary Season, after all. yes, William Russell was intended to reprise his role of Ian Chesterton to link things back to the very beginning. Russell proved unavailable, so Nicholas Courtney was asked to return as the Brigadier instead. It was argued that an ex-soldier could realistically become a teacher. Just look at Danny Pink to see how this is still not a problem. What doesn't quite sit right is that the Brigadier teaches mathematics. Surely History would have been a better fit?


This story is also significant for throwing a spanner into the Continuity works with regards dating of the UNIT stories - popularly felt to have taken place in the future. By having the Brigadier unequivocally retiring in 1977, Mawdryn Undead places them firmly around their dates of transmission.
Two guest artists of note. David Collings, who had played Vorus in Revenge of the Cybermen as well as Poul in Robots of Death, portrays Mawdryn. This is his last appearance in the programme to date. Playing the headmaster of the school is Angus MacKay, who had been the original Borusa in The Deadly Assassin.
Episode endings are:
  1. As the Doctor struggles to open an alien device, Turlough creeps up behind him with a large stone - ready to bash his head in...
  2. Tegan, Nyssa and the Brigadier enter the TARDIS to find that the man they thought was the Doctor is now obviously an alien imposter. They see him in his natural form - with brain exposed...
  3. The Kastrons surround the Doctor and his companions, and he tells them that to do what they want will mean the end of him as a Time Lord...
  4. The Brigadiers are back in their own time zones, and Turlough has joined them on their travels. On the TARDIS scanner, they see the alien ship explode.

Overall, a story that is quite low in incident, actually. Much of the plot revolves around characters trying to work out the two different time periods, which can be a little confusing on initial viewing. Turlough is at least a different kind of companion, and it is nice to see the two returning characters / actors.
Things you might like to know:
  • It is stated that Benton left UNIT to sell second hand cars - something else that doesn't feel quite right. Harry Sullivan is at Porton Down, possibly creating biological weapons? The production team actually toyed with bringing Harry back for this story, before settling on the Brigadier - so Courtney was really third choice.
  • The school doctor - Runciman - is played by someone who has also appeared in the programme before. Roger Hammond had played Francis Bacon on the Space-Time Visualiser way back in The Chase.
  • A nice selection of vintage clips as the Brigadier's memory clears - of the first four Doctors plus Yeti, Cybermen, Zygons, K1 robot, Axons and a Dalek. Remember, there were no VHS releases at this time, so this stuff was like gold dust.
  • The Doctor contemplates reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. It is an anniversary story after all, though the full line is heard more during Davison's tenure than it was in Pertwee's.
  • Talking of Pertwee, the Blinovitch Limitation Theory gets a mention.
  • And Mawdryn wears Tom Baker's burgundy coat from Season 18.
  • I've used the name "Kastrons" in the synopsis above. This is in the script - but on screen they are simply referred to as "mutants".
  • The character of Turlough appears to be based somewhat on Steerpike, from Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast novels. He was originally going to be introduced in Pat Mills' abandoned story Song of the Space Whale.
  • Mark Strickson had to dye his blond hair a reddish tint, as JNT wanted to differentiate him visually from Peter Davison.
  • The two girls who play the younger Tegan and Nyssa don't get a credit on screen, despite having a line each. Lucy Benjamin (mini-Nyssa) went on to fame in Eastenders, whilst mini-Tegan, Sian Pattinson, went on to become a fashion journalist.
  • You can visit the location for this story - Trent Park near Cockfosters, in North London. You and a friend can recreate the rock / head bashing climax to Episode One by the foot of the obelisk.
  • Ex-producer Graham Williams created the Guardians. He had no idea they had been brought back until someone asked him about the Trilogy at a convention.

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