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Four to Doomsday ★★★

Burt Kwouk guest-stars and Stratford Johns plays a giant toad in this peculiar, half-forgotten oddity

Published: Monday, 16th January 2012 at 11:00 pm

Season 19 – Story 117


“Here we are, four days from Earth on a spaceship with three billion and three frogs. And four Earthlings. Why?” – the Doctor

The Tardis materialises aboard a vast spaceship heading towards Earth. It’s conveying Monarch, a toad-like Urbankan, and his ministers Enlightenment and Persuasion. They’ve visited Earth before, gathering specimens, including human beings (ancient Greeks, Mayans, Chinese and Aborigines) whom they’ve preserved as androids. Monarch’s bizarre plan is to conquer the planet and return to the dawn of creation…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Monday 18 January 1982
Part 2 - Tuesday 19 January 1982
Part 3 - Monday 25 January 1982
Part 4 - Tuesday 26 January 1982

Studio recording: April 1981 in TC6

The Doctor - Peter Davison
Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
Nyssa - Sarah Sutton
Tegan - Janet Fielding
Monarch - Stratford Johns
Bigon - Philip Locke
Enlightenment - Annie Lambert
Persuasion - Paul Shelley
Lin Futu - Burt Kwouk
Kurkutji - Illarrio Bisi Pedro
Villagra - Nadia Hammam

Director - John Black
Designer - Tony Burrough
Incidental music - Roger Limb
Script editor - Antony Root
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Writer - Terence Dudley

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
You know something’s awry when the best thing you can say about a story is that it has very nice sets. Designer Tony Burrough provides spacious, split-level chambers interlocking with surprisingly long corridors. There are detailed fascias everywhere. You believe the Urbankan spacecraft extends way beyond the confines of studio TC6 and could indeed be a place worth exploring.

Four to Doomsday is a peculiar, half-forgotten oddity, a story I haven’t been tempted or obliged to revisit since its first transmission. Like a travelling circus, it has so much going on: a big top spaceship, a ringmaster Doctor and his three clown-like companions, a trio of quietly menacing giant toads, a boss-eyed bearded Grecian who can lift his own face off…

And there’s a ceaseless parade of prancing Mayan ladies, warriors wielding plastic swords and stick-waving Aborigines, who all look about as bored as I am, and just as uncertain of their entertainment value. The Chinese dragons quickly become scream-inducingly tedious but they do eventually serve a purpose in the narrative (allowing the Doctor to escape Monarch’s gaze).

Four to Doomsday was actually Peter Davison’s first story into production. Note his shorter hair and more apparent gaucheness, and the zero chemistry between Tegan, Nyssa and Adric. JN-T was convinced after watching videos of 1960s classics that a Tardis quartet was a sound idea, but his writers and script editors show none of the dexterity of, say, David Whitaker or Dennis Spooner. Instead we get a lot of bickering between a fractious airhostess and two “children” – as Adric and Nyssa are often described by the Doctor and Monarch.

A row between Tegan and Adric, in which the Alzarian lad is left concussed on the floor, is so poorly written and directed that it’s horribly exposing for the actors. (Tegan: “Adric, I’m warning you. Get out of my way!” Adric: “No! Now look, I’m not going to let you do anything silly.”) Tegan especially has transformed from the “fine coordinator” in Castrovalva into a shrill ninny, who can’t even be trusted not to run off with the Tardis.

Monarch, Enlightenment and Persuasion form a curious triumvirate, convinced that their protracted intergalactic travel plans are worthwhile and that their bizarre scheme to annihilate Earthlings is in fact benevolent. The amphibian make-up is superb, although you can picture Stratford Johns fuming at having to remain a toad while his lackeys are prettified from the first cliffhanger onwards.

Another aspect that gets mocked – largely for its defiance of science – is the Doctor swimming through the vacuum of space and using momentum from the bounce of a cricket ball to help him reach his stranded police box. I don’t mind it at all. It’s a bit of fun, a moment of triumph, and seems to say, “The last Doctor had his long scarf and jelly babies – all I need is a cricket ball.” It’s a cool, almost defining moment for Davison’s fledgeling Doctor.

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[Available on BBC DVD]


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