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11 September 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 619: Mawdryn Undead, Episode Four

Dear diary,

There’s something I’m not quite getting about Mawdry Undead. The Doctor’s biggest objection to giving up his remaining regenerations to end the suffering of the creatures on this ship seems to be not that he’d then have no more lives to live, but that ‘it would be the end of [him] as a Time Lord’. What I don’t understand is… why? Because he’d be unable to regenerate any more? Does that mean that Matt Smith’s Doctor wasn’t a Time Lord, considering that he wasn’t supposed to regenerate any more? I sort of kidded myself into believing that it was because he’d be helping people who stole Time Lord technology, but that’s not what the dialogue here seems to confirm. Still, it’s not that much of a sticking point for me (I can always put it down to the Doctor being over-dramatic), because I really love the idea that these people stole regeneration technology from the Time Lords, and their punishment for doing so is to live on forever, never dying. It dovetails neatly with the way seekers of immortality are treated in The Five Doctors, so if we believe that Rassilon was the man who imposed the ’13 lives’ limit, then it fits very nicely. As in Shada, it’s a nice addition to Time Lord mythology (and notice how much better this is for the species, compared to actually visiting them and getting bored to tears during Arc of Infinity…)

On the whole, Mawdryn Undead has turned out to be a massive surprise for me. I’ve always thought of it as being one of those stories that just happened to exist, much in the way that something like The Savages does. No one really dislikes it, but then no one really cares all that much for it, either. The only thing I’ve ever known it to be notable for is the return of the Brigadier after a long leave of absence. Looking at the Doctor Who Magazine poll from a few months back, this story charted at number 117 - almost smack-bang in the middle of all results. I’m actually really surprised, though, because it’s been great! I almost did a real-life, cartoon-style double take watching the special features and realising that this was written by Peter Grimwade: the man who washed away so much potential (and good sense, if we’re honest) with Time-Flight last season. For comparison’s sake, that story ranked 237 out of 241… so at least we all agree that this is a massive step up!

The whole script dovetails nicely, and this last episode has been filled with little moments that just left me sitting there grinning from ear to ear. Tiny little things, that shouldn’t even register suddenly feel like everything snapping in to place. For example, I love that the school Doctor is waiting at the top of the hill able to find the amnesiac Brigadier in 1977… because the Brig himself had left a message for the man to be there three episodes earlier, when they thought that the burnt man in the TARDIS may need help! As I say, it’s a tiny, insignificant thing, but it makes it feel as though some real thought has gone into this (it also makes the Brig’s outburst about the man earlier in the story all the more affecting - to know that this doctor didn’t only diagnose a breakdown, but was the one who found the Brig makes it all the deeper).

What made me smile, and laugh, the most though was Tegan’s reaction to events - and more notably, the way it was used to show how her relationship with the Doctor currently stands. In episode three, the Doctor explains to the Brigadier why having two versions of himself on the spaceship at the same time is a bad thing:

DOCTOR
You'd exist twice over. And if the two of you met, you'd short out the time differential. Don't you see? The Blinovitch limitation effect? Oh dear. As Tegan would say, zap!

This is then turned back on itself in this episode, after the two Brigs have met, and The Doctor tries to explain to our former air hostess exactly what’s just happened…

DOCTOR
The two Brigadiers just shorted out the time differential.

TEGAN
You mean zap?

DOCTOR
Yes, that's right. Zap.

Again - it’s tiny! The kind of fun little detail that you’d usually just gloss over in a script, and yet here it absolutely sings, and the look the Doctor gives Tegan as he replies is absolutely perfect.

Throughout this whole story, there’s really been one thought that just keeps on recurring… Nicholas Courtney really is fantastic, isn’t he? I commented a couple of days ago that his relationship with the new Doctor was very in keeping of my memories with the previous incarnations, but the same is true for the Brig as a character, too. It is, of course, partly down to the writing (another plus for Grimwade, there), but it’s also down to this man who simply loves and embodies the part more than any other actor and character in Doctor Who’s long history. I’ve absolutely loved having the Brigadier back, and I think Mawdryn Undead may well become my ‘go-to’ story when I want to watch Nick Courtney at his absolute finest.

 

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