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Logopolis ★★★★

In Tom Baker's sombre final story, the Doctor battles the Master to save the universe from collapse... And The Five Faces of Doctor Who

Published: Friday, 6th May 2011 at 11:00 pm

Season 18 – Story 115


"It's the end - but the moment has been prepared for" - the Doctor

The Doctor decides to fine-tune the Tardis but, arriving on Earth to measure a real police box, he's unaware when an Australian air stewardess, Tegan, steps aboard, and that the Master's Tardis has also materialised on the same spot. Events move to Logopolis, a planet of mathematicians whose muttered computations are holding the collapse of the universe at bay. Nyssa arrives from Traken seeking her father, whose body the Master has absorbed. His meddling destroys Logopolis and allows entropy to erase swathes of the cosmos.

The rival Time Lords must join forces to halt the damage, but back on Earth the Master betrays the Doctor, sending him plunging to his death from a radio telescope. Watched over by Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, the Doctor regenerates…

First transmissions
Part 1 - Saturday 28 February 1981
Part 2 - Saturday 7 March 1981
Part 3 - Saturday 14 March 1981
Part 4 - Saturday 21 March 1981

Location filming: December 1980 in London at 43 Ursula Street, Battersea; Albert Bridge and Cadogan Pier, Chelsea. BBC Receiving Station, Sonning Common, Berks. The A413 layby, nr Denham, Bucks
Studio recording: January 1981 in TC3 and TC6

Doctor Who - Tom Baker
Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
Tegan Jovanka - Janet Fielding
Nyssa - Sarah Sutton
The Monitor - John Fraser
The Master - Anthony Ainley
Aunt Vanessa - Dolore Whiteman
Detective Inspector - Tom Georgeson
Security guard - Christopher Hurst
Doctor Who - Peter Davison

Writer/script editor - Christopher H Bidmead
Designer - Malcolm Thornton
Incidental music - Paddy Kingsland
Executive producer - Barry Letts
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Peter Grimwade

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
Even giants must fall. Over an unprecedented seven-year run - and no matter what you made of him - there's no denying that Tom Baker's Doctor had become a towering icon of British television. During that seemingly endless span, I'd graduated from resenting this eccentric loon for usurping my beloved Jon Pertwee, to realising he was rather wonderful, to feeling he'd outstayed his welcome, to surprising myself by enjoying his final season and having a lump in my throat at his passing.

Who could fail to be moved as this mighty Time Lord - all teeth, curls and scarf - lies supine and expiring at the foot of a radio telescope? His life flashes before our eyes: visions of past friends calling one word, "Doctor!" Then he reaches out to the mysterious Watcher (an inchoate manifestation of his future self) and begins to regenerate…

Flash back to 28 February 1981. I remember sitting in a packed, sweaty hall in Morden, south London, at one of my few Doctor Who conventions. The twin highlights that day were the hugely anticipated (and well-received) screening of Logopolis part one on BBC1, and a star turn by witty raconteur Dennis Spooner.

As Who script editor in 1965, he'd given the Doctor (William Hartnell) his first proper injection of humour, and it strikes me now how different creative forces have shaped the Time Lord's character over the decades. Spooner also established Patrick Troughton's Doctor's eccentricities. Producer Barry Letts's Buddhist ideals permeated Jon Pertwee's Doctor.

Tom Baker was always very much his own Time Lord, though writer Robert Holmes made him Holmesian (in two senses). By 1979, he'd found a kindred wit in Douglas Adams. But Baker's final producer, John Nathan-Turner (later to turn the Doctor into a garish ringmaster, much like himself) was still, in 1981, a control freak. He reined in his star's excesses, and Baker himself confessed he'd become "impossible" to work with.

In his hilarious 1997 autobiography, Who on Earth is Tom Baker? he says: "After seven years I had come to think of it as my programme. How silly I was… It was time to go."

Here in Logopolis, in his dying days under writer/script editor Christopher Bidmead, the fourth Doctor suddenly becomes a sober physicist, surrounded by juveniles yet a loner, verging on monastic. It sits well with Baker who began his adult life as a monk; here he doesn't look at all out of place contemplating entropy while pacing the hitherto-unseen Tardis cloister room.

Logopolis acknowledges the past. It begins with a bobby on the beat and a police box mystery as had the very first episode in 1963. The Tardis within a Tardis recalls The Time Monster (1972). The Master's obsession with shrinking people, a denouement atop a radio telescope and dodgy CSO take us back to the Time Lords' first on-screen battle in Terror of the Autons ten years earlier.

Despite all this, Logopolis gallops along and feels refreshingly modern - 1980s modern. It's pacily directed by Peter Grimwade with only one or two scenes falling flat. Not enough time is given to Nyssa and Tegan's grief over the Master having killed their loved ones. Tegan is simply shoved out of shot to sob for her Auntie Vanessa.

At least Nyssa gets one profoundly moving moment when she sees entropy rapidly erasing the universe and realises, "I can't see Traken… The Master killed my stepmother, and then my father, and now the world that I grew up in, blotted out for ever." Gulp!

Janet Fielding's Tegan immediately shows more promise than either Adric or Nyssa. The series needs to be grounded by companions from contemporary Earth and Tegan is the first since Sarah Jane Smith left in 1976, and the first from outside Britain. Although shrill and underused towards the end, Tegan hits you between the eyes as an independent, liberated woman: well, she spends most of her first episode berating men and changing a tyre.

With hindsight it's obvious that matching Anthony Ainley's Master so closely to Roger Delgado's was a mistake. Keeping him heard (sniggering like Muttley) but unseen for two episodes engenders more tedium than tension. His panto penguin suit does him no favours and his wicked intentions are also less than clear. At least this Master is approaching a worthy foe to see off the fourth Doctor.

Tom Baker is terrific throughout - completely selling grave moments such as "I've just dipped into the future. We must be prepared for the worst," and "This is something far too serious… a chain of circumstances that fragments the law that holds the universe together." He's brooding, sparky and never for a second looks ready to give up.

I remember, a few years ago, cycling through London's Fitzrovia and spying this tubby, white-haired, no longer curly-haired giant, dressed in a tangerine suit and pink shirt - the straightest embodiment of Oscar Wilde imaginable. It was a 70-something yet timeless Tom Baker standing on the kerbside, impressing a young friend with his badinage. Suddenly I realised, "Ah, the fourth Doctor is still with us." And, somehow, he always will be.

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Radio Times archive

Logopolis billings
Logopolis letters 28.3.81

The Five Faces of Doctor Who

The winter of 1981 was one of the most exciting times for British Doctor Who fans. If you lived in the USA, Australia and other countries, the chances are you could have watched umpteen repeats of episodes featuring the first four Doctors. Repeats were a very rare event for fans in the UK, where we'd only get one Christmas "complete adventure" or summer repeats of the producer's choice of that year's best story. After that, it seemed they were gone for ever, only to be relived in the pages of Target novels.

Producer John Nathan-Turner thrilled fans with this five-week season, bridging Tom Baker and Peter Davison's Doctors. He could only choose from existing four-parters. So Hartnell was represented by his first serial, An Unearthly Child. Troughton by The Krotons, not a great serial but this was long before Tomb of the Cybermen had been repatriated. Carnival of Monsters represented Pertwee. The Three Doctors, then the only multi-Doctor story, was a vital inclusion. And Logopolis had the changeover from Baker to Davison.


Here's how we covered the season in RT.

Five Faces feature
Five Faces 1 Unearthly
Five Faces 2 Krotons
Five Faces 3 Carnival
Five Faces 4 Three Doctors
Five Faces 5 Logopolis
Five Faces letters
[Available on BBC DVD]

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