Attempting to return Tegan to Earth, the TARDIS crew end up on a spaceship, equipped with very advanced technology. While Adric and Nyssa inspect the gadgets, the Doctor and Tegan explore the ship, and are granted an audience with the ship’s frog-like captain, Monarch, and his two equally frog-like cohorts, Enlightenment and Persuasion. It appears their hosts are Urbankans on their way to Earth, and are, naturally, intrigued by the Doctor’s visits to Earth, and Tegan’s depictions of Earth fashion. Monarch has a plan to help the people of Earth, cursed as they are with sickness and frailty. Aboard his ship he has representatives of four ancient Earth cultures: the Chinese, the Mayans, the Greeks, and the Australian Aborigines. He hopes they can be ambassadors of peace and goodwill, helping to sell Monarch’s plan to Earth’s varied inhabitants. Adric is quite taken with Monarch’s intentions, but the Doctor senses something fishy. It soon becomes apparent that Monarch’s plans for Earth are far from good. And the Doctor and his companions might be too much of a threat to be allowed to survive…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
“Four to Doomsday” is writer Terrance Dudley’s first script for Doctor Who. Not one of the show’s best writers, but not the worst, either. On the whole, is a pretty work-horse story. At first it sounds like Monarch wants to do the Cyberman thing–robotize the human race, eliminating their susceptibility to disease, their propensity to irrational thought, and their emotions. It’s to Dudley’s credit that he didn’t make that Monarch’s real goal, otherwise this might well have been another Cyberman story. However, Monarch’s true intentions are a bit of a hard sell. Having already plundered Urbanka, he wants to mine the Earth for its minerals so he can power his ship beyond light speed, achieve time travel, and go back to before the Big Bang to meet himself. Yes, he thinks he’s God. What makes this a hard sell is the question: what then? Why go to all this trouble simply to travel before the beginning of the universe? Most lunatic despots would want to use this power to dominate other worlds, and gain mastery over the entire cosmos. Monarch just wants to say hi to his pre-universe self. Sorry, this seems a bit unambitious, as well as bonkers. But Dudley manages to construct four episodes around this premise that hold the viewer’s attention, which is not to be sneezed at.
There are some things that were done well on “Four to Doomsday.” The floating cameras (“monopitcons”) look like they’re dangling in the air, even when using green screen to achieve the effect. And there aren’t any obvious dialog clunkers (I suspect the Doctor telling Monarch that he has “no intention of interfering with your monopticons!” was deliberate Benny Hill humor). Nyssa fainting at the end of the story was a surprise, and a nice way to keep people watching to see what happens at the beginning of the next serial. How seriously was she affected by Monarch’s brain-drain process? Or is there something else wrong? For a contrived ending to explain her fleeting appearances in “Kinda,” I think it worked. (It seems the production team wanted to write Nyssa out, so “Kinda,” the next story, had been written without her. However, Peter Davison insisted Nyssa was the right sort of companion for his Doctor, so she stayed. Nice one, Peter!)
Unfortunately, there were a number of things that didn’t work at all for me. It didn’t make sense that the Doctor gave Tegan the TARDIS key, and yet Adric was able to enter and exit the TARDIS without it. Then there’s the fact that Tegan just happened to be able to speak the Aborigine’s native language, without any explanation. Of course, she’s Australian, so she must speak Aborigine! The episode one cliffhanger was a bit of a non-cliffhanger. The formerly froggy Enlightenment and Persuasion enter the room looking distinctly human and wearing clothes Tegan had drawn. A bit of a surprise, maybe, but not a cliffhanger! And Bigon’s big reveal at the end of episode two, where he pulls back his “skin” to reveal robot circuitry, was not the best piece of CSO I’ve seen on Doctor Who. Especially the “mask” reveal, where the actor’s face looks straight ahead while he lifts the dummy face up! This could have been done better, even on a tight budget. As it is, it looks cheap and makeshift. Of course, there’s the classic scene where the Doctor, floating in space, launches himself toward the TARDIS by throwing a cricket ball against the side of the ship, and catching when it bounces back, using the momentum to propel him. Sounds wonderful, except it’s impossible without gravity. So much for the producers trying to be more “scientific.” Finally, when the Doctor goes into a deep trance to preserve oxygen, how come he breathes so heavily? One would think his breathing would be shallower.
This story makes me wonder what they were trying to do with Adric. His stories as the Fourth Doctor’s sole companion showed a lot of promise for the character. Now he’s become a gullible, misogynistic, irritating teenager. His piece about women being “impatient and bossy” sounds like something from the schoolyard. According to Adric, women aren’t very intelligent and don’t like to read. And when Nyssa, who, throughout this screed, is studying a book on mathematics, challenges him, Adric responds saying Nyssa doesn’t count because she’s only a girl, not a woman. Then later, Adric is genuinely taken in by Monarch, and believes his plan to refashion human beings is brilliant. Are the producers trying to make us hate him? If they’re intention was to write out Nyssa, then why make Adric so unlikeable? As it is, Adric’s days are numbered, but that decision was made after this story was written. Call it Providence, but scenes like this, as painful as they are, work to build up Adric’s departure in a few stories.
In summary, “Four to Doomsday” is not bad Who, but definitely missable. Unless you have to know what’s wrong with Nyssa at the beginning of “Kinda.”