Mawdryn Undead ★★★★

The Brigadier is back (as a teacher!) and new boy Turlough must kill the Doctor in this timey-wimey classic

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Season 20 – Story 125

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“It is good to see you. The Doctor and the Tardis… How could I ever forget?” – the Brigadier

Storyline
The Brigadier is teaching at a boys’ school in England 1983, having retired from Unit some years earlier, but has no memory of his old friend, the Doctor. Meanwhile, a mischievous pupil Turlough (actually an alien in exile) has been engaged by the Black Guardian to destroy the Doctor. In the school grounds, a transmat capsule is linked to a spaceship in orbit. Its occupants are Mawdryn and his fellow mutant scientists who stole a metamorphic symbiosis regenerator from Gallifrey, which has given them an immortality they now find unendurable. The Doctor can help them die – and save a contaminated Tegan and Nyssa – but only by surrendering his remaining regenerations. He must also prevent the Brigadier from meeting a younger version of himself accidentally lifted from 1977…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Tuesday 1 February 1983
Part 2 – Wednesday 2 February 1983
Part 3 – Tuesday 8 February 1983
Part 4 – Wednesday 9 February 1983

Production
Location filming: August 1982 at Trent Park, Cockfosters, north London
Studio recording: September 1982 in TC6 and TC8

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Tegan – Janet Fielding
Nyssa – Sarah Sutton
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart – Nicholas Courtney
Turlough – Mark Strickson
Mawdryn – David Collings
Black Guardian – Valentine Dyall
Headmaster – Angus MacKay
Ibbotson – Stephen Garlick
Doctor Runciman – Roger Hammond
Matron – Sheila Gill
Mutants – Peter Walmsley, Brian Darnley

Crew
Writer – Peter Grimwade
Incidental music – Paddy Kingsland
Designer – Stephen Scott
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Peter Moffatt

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
The Brigadier as a maths teacher at a public school? Well, it could happen. Just! In a parallel universe where this should perhaps have been set, as was Inferno (1970) when Nicholas Courtney played the sadistic Brigade Leader.

Many will be aware that Mawdryn Undead was conceived with 1960s companion Ian Chesterton – a science teacher – in mind. When actor William Russell proved unavailable, Harry Sullivan, Unit’s lieutenant surgeon from 1975, was considered. But Ian Marter, too, was “touring the provinces”.

So third choice, dear old Lethbridge Stewart came to the rescue, much as he did for The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2008, after several other old stalwarts had been looked into.

I adored the Brigadier, part and parcel of Doctor Who since I’d started watching in 1968. I’d fumed while he was ignored by the programme for eight years after his last appearance in Terror of the Zygons (1975); just as I am vexed now that, for reasons that will probably never be honestly disclosed, he was omitted from 21st-century Who.

But John Nathan-Turner (with whom Courtney later became close friends) realised the value of the Brig and had promised to bring him back. A more suitable vehicle might have come along, but once we swallow the news of the Brig’s career change in Mawdryn Undead (“I know how many beans make five, Doctor, and you don’t have to be a Time Lord to cope with A-level maths!”), we can get absorbed in the story. And of course it’s wonderful to have him back.

His greatly anticipated reunion with the Doctor, which comes in part two, isn’t quite as we’d expect. Understandably he doesn’t recognise this fifth Doctor, but he also claims never to have met the Doctor at all.

The flashback scene, where the Doctor breaks through the Brig’s amnesia, is a thrill for long-term viewers as the names of Jo Grant, Liz Shaw, Sarah Jane, Harry and Sgt Benton are uttered again for the first time in years and unlock the old soldier’s memories, together with a montage of carefully chosen clips of earlier Doctors and monsters.

We also get two Brigs for the price of one: a greying, tweedy, clean-shaven 1983 version and his 1977 self, in a blazer with black hair and moustache, more the image of the Brigadier of old. And, of course, Courtney is pure gold throughout.

But there’s so much more to Mawdryn Undead. Peter Grimwade makes good on the disaster that was Time-Flight with another complicated, but far more engaging, narrative. He wrote it specifically for Trent Park (he’d once studied there) and it’s a great location with its college, verdant grounds and obelisk on a distant hill.

Peter Moffatt’s direction is less languorous than some of his other efforts. There’s effective make-up on Tegan and Nyssa when they start to look like rotten fruit. The scalded version of Mawdryn is quite horrible, although once we get over the shock value of his linguine-for-brains, the effect of his exposed skull becomes silly.

Mark Strickson is refreshing as Turlough. Wily and wiry, “cunning as a fox” says the Brig, whose old motorcar he trashes, Turlough seems up for anything. In his desperation to leave Earth, he accepts an alliance with the Black Guardian, although he baulks at murder. “I’m not sure I could go that far.”

“You will be destroying one of the most evil creatures in the universe. He calls himself the Doctor,” growls the super-being with a dead crow splayed across his bonce. It’s a bit of a stretch that a schoolboy is the best available candidate and that his omnipotence can’t do the deed himself. His line “I may not be seen to act in this. I must not be involved” is no explanation at all.

The Doctor displays a curious blend of innocence and awareness – clearly not trusting Turlough, but keeping an enemy close and spotting the lad’s potential. Davison beautifully underplays the Doctor’s turmoil when faced with sacrificing his future regenerations to help Mawdryn and save Tegan and Nyssa. It’s also reinforced here (no matter what The Brain of Morbius indicated) that “I can only regenerate 12 times. I have already done so four times.”

Davison has often said that Nyssa was the best match for his Doctor, yet her stoicism/vapidity leaves me cold. I prefer his developing bond with Tegan. They’re unlikely companions, often in conflict, but when he comforted her in Snakedance and when she gives him her heartfelt thanks here (“You were prepared to risk everything for us”), we glimpse why they travel together.

Radio Times archive material

In RT (29 January 1983) there was a feature reintroducing the Brigadier.

Mawdryn feature

The RT mailbag of 5 February brought complaints about scheduling, while John Nathan-Turner fielded reader concerns on 26 February.

letters 5 Feb 1983
letters 26 Feb 1983

RT billings

Mawdryn billings
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[Available on BBC DVD]