The Awakening ★★★★★

The ancient, evil Malus awakes in an English country church in this short, pacy, almost perfect Peter Davison story

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Season 21 – Story 131

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“Malus come. Malus is god of war, ain’t he? He makes fighting worse. He makes them hate more” – Will Chandler

Storyline
Little Hodcombe, 1984: when the Doctor takes Tegan to visit her English grandfather, they learn that he’s gone missing. The village has been isolated from the outside world for a Civil War re-enactment, led by Sir George Hutchinson and his men who take the event in deadly earnest. They plan to burn Tegan as their Queen of the May. Spectral apparitions from 1643 materialise in the village, and in a derelict church the Doctor discovers an ancient evil, the Malus, walled up but recharging itself on the psychic energy created by the war games…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Thursday 19 January 1984
Part 2 – Friday 20 January 1984

Production
Location filming: July 1983 at Shapwick and Tarrant Monkton, Dorset; and Martin near Fordingbridge, Hampshire
Studio recording: August 1983 in TC6

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Tegan – Janet Fielding
Turlough – Mark Strickson
Jane Hampden – Polly James
Sir George Hutchinson – Denis Lill
Colonel Ben Wolsey – Glyn Houston
Joseph Willow – Jack Galloway
Andrew Verney – Frederick Hall
Will Chandler – Keith Jayne
Trooper – Christopher Saul

Crew
Writer – Eric Pringle
Incidental music – Peter Howell
Designer – Barry Newbery
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Michael Owen Morris

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
One of those rare beasts: a fifth Doctor story that is a delight from start to finish. From its opening shot of galloping horses, the story races along at quite a lick, with no flab or flannel, thanks to Eric Saward condensing Eric Pringle’s four-part treatment into two. The direction is seamless, not one shot misjudged or out of place. Amazingly, Michael Owen Morris was fresh from the BBC directors’ course – what a shame this would be his single Doctor Who entry.

I’m a sucker for stories set in the English countryside, and you don’t have to be Sherlock to spot similarities between The Awakening and The Daemons (the 1971 Jon Pertwee classic): a cut-off village; a hero being put to the stake; the discovery of a lump of alien metal; psychic energy of locals calling forth an ancient devil; a stone creature with glowing eyes… and all centred upon a church that blows up at the end.

For its time, the Malus is a well-realised visual effect (by Tony Harding), with a particularly spooky reveal through crumbling plaster and dry ice at the end of part one. The sets are excellent too, especially the large, derelict church where the Malus gradually breaks through the plasterwork. It’s a fine swansong for designer Barry Newbery who’d worked on An Unearthly Child in 1963 and many subsequent classics, and effectively retired from the BBC with this production.

In such a fast-moving story, the characters have to hit the ground running. As villainous Sir George, Denis Lill (his previous Who was Image of the Fendahl, 1977) is suitably swaggering in his Cavalier uniform. Glyn Houston (The Hand of Fear, 1976) is incapable of an unsympathetic performance and completely believable as the colonel who turns good.

Keith Jayne, then familiar to BBC1 viewers for The Onedin Line and Stig of the Dump, is perfect casting as Will, the bewildered peasant lad transported from 1643, with his quirky turn of phrase: “Doctor bain’t a proper name”; “I’s not pleased” etc.

After the success of Nerys Hughes in Kinda (1982), JN-T has hired her Liver Birds co-star Polly James as Jane Hampden, the feisty schoolteacher who is the only villager opposed to the historical re-enactments. Given another episode, Jane might have had chance to breathe and bond with the Doctor.

The Awakening is a Tegan-centric story, as the Doctor and Turlough interrupt their travels to let her visit her grandfather, Andrew Verney, a local historian who’s been locked away during the war games. Given his surname, he must be Tegan’s maternal grandfather. He’s thoroughly English, which implies her mother was too. (Her parents are never mentioned in the series, although we did meet her aunt in Logopolis and a cousin in Arc of Infinity.)

And if Janet Fielding looks a sketch in her gaudy dye-splash dress, she’s even more peculiar in her “unplucked maiden” frock and bonnet as the May Queen. It’s a wonder she’s so easily persuaded to change into it by roughneck Willow, despite his threat, “Unless you want me to do it for you.” She even finds time to rearrange her hair.

If there’s any failing, it’s that the conclusion is hurried and the reason for the Malus’s demise is unclear. The Tardis also looks a little overstuffed (as the Doctor, Turlough, Tegan, her grandfather, Jane, Will and Willow all pile in) but it’s a charming final scene.

The Doctor admits he doesn’t have all the answers to the day’s events (only a slight cop-out); and despite his customary urge to rush off, he’s coerced by his passengers to dally in Little Hodcombe. He and Turlough, the two aliens, are swayed by the promise of tea. The Doctor: “A noxious infusion of oriental leaves containing a high percentage of toxic acid.” 
Will: “Sounds an evil brew, don’t it!” 
The Doctor: “True. Personally, I rather like it.”

I said that the previous season’s short story, The King’s Demons, could hardly be seen as setting a template for 21st-century Who’s 45-minute format. Well, The Awakening certainly does.

Radio Times archive material

RT billings

Awakening billings

Visual effects designer Tony Harding pictured with the Malus in the Radio Times 20th Anniversary Special, and a brief interview from that publication.

Tony Harding
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[Available on BBC DVD]