Doctor Who · Reviews

Review: Four to Doomsday still a great classic Who 35 years on

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The Doctor had three companions with him in the Tardis in 1982; from left Peter Davison, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse, Tegan (Janet Fielding, who seemed never to change out of her air hostess uniform, first worn in the final Tom Baker story Logopolis) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton).  Producer John Nathan-Turner felt the Doctor plus three was a crowded house, but Davison insisted Sutton remain rather than being written out in Four to Doomsday.

Some “classic” Doctor Who stories have not dated well. Some remain very good. One is Four to Doomsday (January 1982), which I’ve just re-watched. It’s the first Fifth Doctor — Peter Davison — story filmed, though not the first screened (that was Castrovalva, which is not as good).

Davison took a break from playing Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small to play the Doctor for three years, afterwards returning to the Yorkshire Dales. He played the Time Lord as a boyish, cricket-loving Englishman (!) much like the Tristan character. He was recruited by long-time Who producer John Nathan-Turner, who’d also worked on All Creatures.

It’s a dramatic story with good acting and very good sets and special effects for the time, when Doctor Who was hilariously noted for cardboard props as alien worlds and flying kettles as space ships, such was its low budget from its 1963 start till its 1989 hiatus. In the story, the Tardis lands in a gigantic Earth-bound craft controlled by the Monarch of Urbanka (played by Stratford Johns of Z Cars and Softly Softly fame), who intends to take over our planet after he had mined and polluted his own to destruction.

The latter was a Global Warming plot reference six years before Nasa’s James Hansen created this still very current “we’re all doomed” scenario. The story cites an ozone hole (the Antarctic one was of big concern in 1982) on Monarch’s home planet as the final cause of Urbanka’s ruin, burning it to cinders.

Aboard the Monarch’s ship are four people, at first sight apparently humans kidnapped by Monarch during past visits to Earth over thousands of years—ancient Greek philosopher Bigon; Chinese Mandarin Lin Futu; Mayan princess Villagra; and Kurkutji, an Australian Aborigine.

The latter was played by Ilario Bisi-Pedro, who appears to have been a Black British actor about whom little information exists. Though the part was sympathetically portrayed, I doubt a non-Aborigine would be allowed to play one today without an uproar. At the time, the BBC was actively promoting Doctor Who‘s popularity in Australia, with the Davison era featuring Australian actress Janet Field as one of the Doctor’s companions, air hostess Tegan, she of the execrable accent no dinkum Aussie would speak.

As the story develops, it is revealed that the four kidnapped humans and others like them are really androids whose human memories have been implanted in silicon chips. Monarch and his Urbankan companions Enlightenment (Annie Lambert) and Persuasion (Paul Shelley) refer to Urbanka’s pre-android era as “the flesh times,” with distaste, hence their plan to quickly poison Earth’s population, before mining our planet’s resources, too.

Monarch’s mining scheme is designed to amass the energy to build a spacecraft capable of travelling faster than light, to enable him to go back in time to before the Big Bang that created our universe, where he expects to meet himself, whom be believes is God. It is a fascinating concept and I am surprised no Doctor Who story has actually been set before time began, or featured a meeting between the Doctor and Jesus, for example.

After all, in the 2006 story The Satan Pit, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) meets the Devil. Einstein’s Relativity theories (drawn on in Four to Doomsday, and this year’s World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls) allow time travel, so it’s not an impossible scenario.

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Frozen in time. From left, Enlightenment ( Annie Lambert; I remember thinking she was drop-dead gorgeous in this role in 1982; she’s 71 now and doubtless I still would find her so); Monarch (Stratford Johns (1925-2002); well known on our screens in the 1960s and 1970s as the detective Charlie Barlow in Z Cars, Softly Softly and Barlow at Large) and Persuasion (Paul Shelley, born 1942, a classical actor noted for his Shakespearian performances).

Footnotes:

I’ve lately been re-watching All Creatures Great and Small on DVD too, and the resemblance between Davison’s Tristan and Doctor characters is palpably obvious and deliberate, no doubt to maintain the Tristan character’s popularity at a time that Fourth Doctor Tom Baker was replaced by Davison after seven years which had entrenched Baker as the doctor for many viewers.

Davison’s daughter Georgia is married to David Tennant, who was most recently seen on our screens in Broadchurch, which also starred Jodie Whittaker, recently cast as the Thirteenth Doctor.

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Good luck, Mr Gorski

Friday (Moonday) was the 48th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s first walk by humanity on the moon. It was huge news in 1969. I was a small schoolboy and watched it live on television, as did 500 million other people around the world, the biggest audience ever back then for a live television broadcast. It is a sad reflection on the more pathetic side of today’s internet age that a large proportion of people, as measured by various opinion polls, believe it was all a hoax.
 
There have been real Armstrong hoaxes, though, including a much-denied 1980s one that he converted to Islam while on the moon. The best went round the internet in 1995, just as the net was starting to take off, but before search engines had been invented to help with fact-checking. I had just joined the net (using Netscape Navigator I, the first truly successful web browser) when a chain email fell in my inbox. It read:
 
Most people believe that when astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, his first, famous words were: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” But in fact, as heard by Mission Control, he actually first muttered under his breath: “Good luck, Mr Gorsky.”
 
NASA officials thought it was a casual remark concerning a Soviet cosmonaut. But there was no Russian, or American, spaceman with the name Gorsky.
 
Over the years, people questioned Armstrong about the cryptic remark. On July 5, 1995 in Tampa Bay, FL, while Armstrong was answering questions following a speech, a reporter brought up the 26-year-old question. Armstrong finally responded. It seems that Mr Gorsky had died and so Armstrong felt he could answer the question.
 
When Armstrong was an eight-year-old growing up in a small Ohio town, he was playing baseball with his brother in the backyard one day. His brother hit a fly ball which landed in front of his neighbors’ bedroom window. The neighbors were Mr and Mrs Gorsky. As Armstrong went over to pick up the ball, he heard Mrs Gorsky shouting at Mr Gorsky, “Oral sex? You want oral sex? You’ll get oral sex when that little runt next door walks on the moon!”
 
It deserved to be true and was a good joke nonetheless. A book of such hoaxes was even published under the name Good luck, Mr Gorsky! I fear that some of those who believe Armstrong never walked on the moon might, ironically, actually believe this original piece of Fake News.
 
NASA image: Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon, Tranquility Base, 21 July 1969 NZST. Photo by Buzz Aldrin.
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