The Roman Who Wore Tennis Shoes
Let us start with a poem, penned by Nick Griffiths, taken from his very Doctor Who-affected memoir Dalek I Loved You (Orion Publishing, 2008):
You make me sick
You lover of the metric
They played out your death in silence
Which I considered a contrivance
Since no one gave a toss
For Whovians the world over, it’s hard to argue with Griffiths’ sentiment, as the young Adric (played by Matthew Waterhouse) remains the single most irritating companion that the Doctor has ever taken on board the TARDIS. He blathers, makes stupid comments, worse jokes, often sides with the villain in any given story, and somehow still comes back episode after episode.
With Four to Doomsday, the first full serial to feature Peter Davidson’s turn as the Doctor (immediately following Tom Baker’s iconic portrayal), a solid Terence Dudley script is nearly run off course by the mere presence of the single worst companion to ever grace the series. Sod off, indeed.
The plot for Four to Doomsday is actually quite compelling: what if the villains in question were actually trying to save Earth instead of trying to destroy it? That’s what the Doctor finds out when the TARDIS arrives aboard a mysterious spaceship adorned with floating spy cameras.
As Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Adric begin exploring the ship with the Doctor, they find that they’re not alone: a man in Greek clothing welcomes the travelers and offers to feed them. The gesture is a kind one, and soon the Doctor’s crew meet a Chinese lord, an Aboriginal tribesman, and other leaders of various ethnic groups on Earth. Though none of them can fully explain their presence on the ship, the Doctor and company soon meet the Monarch (the excellent character actor Stratford Johns), a green, bloated, and prickly alien leader who is assisted by fellow creatures named Enlightenment (Annie Lambert) and Persuasion (Paul Shelley). The Monarch is a smart alien creature: he goes toe-to-toe with the Doctor over numerous issues, and for once, the Doctor is not the smartest creature in the room.
Though the Monarch at first seems kind and generous, the companions (especially Tegan) begin to suspect there’s something horribly amiss with this Earth-bound spaceship: why would these creatures “kidnap” various cultural leaders only to return them to Earth thousands of years later? More importantly, if these leaders were picked up thousands of years ago, why haven’t they died yet?
The Monarch explains that he simply wants to bring peace to our humble planet, helping out by making things like hunger, war, and disease a thing of the past—and he’s actually being honest with his intentions. What disturbs the Doctor is how the Monarch plans to rid these problems from mankind’s to-do list—and the resulting conflict involves attempted beheadings, viles of flesh-rotting poison, and shapeshifting alien creatures armed with handguns (oh yeah, and Tegan piloting the TARDIS all by herself). All things considered, it’s a fairly exciting episode ...
... at least until Adric opens his mouth. Truth be told, Waterhouse’s character doesn’t completely ruin the episode, but his presence drains so much vitality out of the proceedings. During the first episode alone, Adric makes a wry comment to both Tegan and Nyssa regarding women not being able to do mechanical things because, according to him, they’re women. After that, the viewer has a hard time caring about Adric’s fate, as he’s intensely unsympathetic.
The fact that he later betrays the Doctor outright doesn’t help his cause, either. Tegan proves to be the companion to beat, as she exhibits real fear and (eventually) real bravery in trying to stop the Monarch’s diabolical plan. Though the production values aren’t doing the script any favors (first off: these were the early days of green screen useage; secondly: in the first “cultural exchange” scene, a shirtless Roman wrestler can clearly be seen wearing white tennis shoes), Adric’s presence winds up consuming far too much screen time and winds up giving far too little payoff.
It’s a double-shame, then, that the special features—normally one of the high points of the BBC’s ongoing Doctor Who re-release series—are so painfully dull this time around. The “Studio Recording” of Davidson’s first day of the Doctor is essentially a 27-minute unedited tape of Davidson walking out of the TARDIS, taking his cues from the director, and then going back and doing some scenes over again. There is absolutely nothing of value to be pulled from it, which may also be said about the “Saturday Night at the Mill” feature in which Davidson, prior to taking the role, is interviewed by Bob Langley, in which a surprising amount of time is spent discussing Davidson’s work on the show All Creatures Great and Small (thankfully for the viewer, Davidson is one charming devil).
The commentary with the cast and director is wry and comical, but offers no genuine insight into the show itself (director John Black, in fact, winds up defending Terence Dudley’s script to the rest of the cast at one point, making for an oddly confrontational moment in what is normally a jovial audio recording session), and the less said about the “music video” remix of the theme song, the better.
In the end, Four to Doomsday remains one of the more unique stories that the Doctor has been a part of (not to mention a great starting point for Davison), even if it’s weighed down by the presence of one very annoying young companion.