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Full Circle ★★★★★

An outstanding story with the Doctor and Romana passing into E-Space, meeting Adric and Marshmen on the planet Alzarius

Season 18 – Story 111


"Why can't people be nice to one another, just for a change? I mean, I'm an alien, and you don't want to drag me into a swamp, do you? You do…" - the Doctor

The Tardis passes through a charged vacuum emboitement (CVE), taking the Doctor, Romana and K•9 into E-Space - an "exo-space/time continuum outside our own universe". They materialise on lush Alzarius where the humanoid inhabitants are retreating to the safety of their Starliner, a spacecraft undergoing constant repair. It is the time of Mistfall, when the marshes give rise to supposedly toxic vapour and aggressive reptilian creatures. Assisted by rebellious teenager Adric, the Time Lords must unravel the genetic mystery behind the Marshmen and help complete the Starliner's interminable embarkation…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 25 October 1980
Part 2 - Saturday 1 November 1980
Part 3 - Saturday 8 November 1980
Part 4 - Saturday 15 November 1980

Location filming: July 1980 at Black Park, Fulmer, Bucks
Studio recording: August 1980 in TC3 and TC6

Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Romana - Lalla Ward
Voice of K•9 - John Leeson
Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
Login - George Baker
Draith - Leonard Maguire
Dexeter - Tony Calvin
Nefred - James Bree
Garif - Alan Rowe
Varsh - Richard Willis
Tylos - Bernard Padden
Keara - June Page
Omril - Andrew Forbes
Rysik - Adrian Gibbs
Marshman - Barney Lawrence
Marshchild - Norman Bacon

Writer - Andrew Smith
Designer - Janet Budden
Incidental music - Paddy Kingsland
Script editor - Christopher H Bidmead
Executive producer - Barry Letts
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Peter Grimwade

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
On 24 October 1980, the day before Full Circle began, came the momentous news that Tom Baker would be hanging up his scarf after seven years as the iconic, internationally popular fourth Doctor. Then, halfway through the story's transmission, Peter Davison was announced as his unusually youthful replacement.

It was a turbulent period when bulletins about terminated and newly cast Doctors and companions emerged thick and fast from the charged vacuum emboitement at Threshold House - the Doctor Who production office in Shepherd's Bush. And its new incumbent certainly knew how to milk the media and tease the fans.

John Nathan-Turner never came out of the closet - as being a Doctor Who fan himself, that is. At least that's my long-held theory. You only have to consider all the moves he made during his tenure: rehiring the "show's" long-gone stars, reheating popular foes, scheduling vintage repeats, overindulging continuity, flirting with and falling out with fandom… Often it paid off; eventually his fan-like decisions drained the series of vitality.

Nowadays, producers flash their fan badge with pride. It would turn heads if a 21st-century scriptwriter were not a lifelong devotee of Doctor Who. Heavens, even an actor playing the Doctor can be a fan. But in 1980 it came as no small surprise to see JN-T realising the dreams of two teenage aficionados - elevating Matthew Waterhouse from his post as BBC cuttings clerk to play companion Adric, and engaging Andrew Smith as writer.

Incredibly, Smith was only 17 when commissioned and turned 18 during filming. Of course, his scripts needed finessing by Christopher Bidmead, but much of the credit for Full Circle still goes to Smith, a driven, imaginative, fledgling writer who understood what made the programme tick. Yes, he embellishes the dialogue with arcane nods to Gallifrey's binary co-ordinates, Leela and Andred (whom no one but fans will recall), but also provides a plot worth following, a mystery to unravel and characters to care about.

There are low-key surprises. Romana, reluctant to return to Gallifrey, is seen sulking in her rather girly Tardis bedroom. Not since 1965 has a companion had a bedroom. The Tardis is commandeered and piloted by teenage rebels. And there's a Big Doctor Who Moment when the Marshmen surface in slo-mo like creatures from the Black Lagoon.

In the tradition of other men-in-wetsuit successes (Cybermen, Silurians, Sea Devils…), they're the most effective monsters in ages. Some costume shortcomings may be exposed in the stark Starliner sets, but director Peter Grimwade really has a handle on the misty Black Park lakeside film sequences. The death of Decider Draith - hauled under the marsh with the cry "Tell Dexeter we've come full circle!" - always delivers a chill.

The likelihood of spiders evolving into amphibians then humanoids might leave David Attenborough scratching his head, but, hey, this is an alien world with negative coordinates. The locals enjoy "rapid cellular adaptation", so why not? Perhaps less plausible is that for 4,000 generations they've been tweaking their Starliner even though it's ready for take-off, and that the secrets of the "system files" have been assiduously withheld.

Smith gives Tom Baker some outstanding Doctorly material, lambasting the leading triumvirate (ironically called Deciders) for their "wilful procrastination of endless procedure" and boiling in fury when they sanction Dexeter's dissection of a Marshchild. "Easy enough to destroy. Have you ever tried creating one?"

George Baker, then rather a distinguished name to appear in Doctor Who, is superb as compassionate Decider Login. Otherwise the casting is a tad lacklustre. The rebellious Outlers blend the sort of characterisation and performance guaranteed to make teenager viewers cringe. As their leader Varsh, Richard Willis (familiar from ITV children's serial, The Feathered Serpent) shows most promise but he's culled before curtain down.

Full Circle Adric
[Matthew Waterhouse. Photographed by Don Smith at BBC TV Centre in August 1980. Copyright Radio Times Archive]

As his surviving little brother Adric… well, Matthew Waterhouse has been much maligned by co-stars for his bumptiousness and by fellow fans for his evident inexperience, but he's actually not too bad in this, his second story into production. He nails most of his lines, even if his stooped gait and stiff gestures betray a lack of drama schooling. Ultimately, though, Waterhouse's minuscule acting CV speaks for itself.

There are even more important casting shake-ups ahead. "Evolution goes in quantum leaps, but it doesn't go that fast," observes the Doctor, in a story that encapsulates the new regime's will to honour past glories and build towards an optimistic future.

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