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19x2. Four to Doomsday
Writer: Terence Dudley
Director: John Black
Script Editor: Antony Root
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The TARDIS materializes on board a ship carrying survivors from Urbanka, whose ruler Monarch has become obsessed with faster-than-light travel, believing that he is God and that he would find himself at the moment of the universe's creation. The Doctor discovers that he is planning to colonize Earth and wipe out its population so that he can mine its resources to support his plan.

Review: "Four to Doomsday" reminded me a bit of "The Leisure Hive," in that it's sufficiently entertaining at a basic level and has more than enough intriguing concepts, but its story tends to wander around rather than pulling everything together into a coherent whole. It's not uncommon for Doctor Who serials to spend the first episode in "something's weird here" mode before revealing the central conflict, but "Four to Doomsday" goes through *two* episodes before the details of Monarch's plan emerge. While this allows some time to explore the personalities of the  multi-member TARDIS crew, it also lends a slightly rushed feel to the proceedings when the Doctor and his companions eventually spring into action.

Monarch is definitely a step above your average villain. While it's customary to speak of megalomaniacs as having a "God complex," it's usually meant as a metaphor, whereas Monarch not only believes himself to be God but intends to travel back to the beginning of time in the hopes of meeting himself there. (While we don't see any actual time-traveling aside from the TARDIS's arrival and departure, I'm always pleased to see a Doctor Who story that actually makes time travel part of the plot rather than just a device to bring the Doctor into the situation.) And yet, despite his outsized ego, Monarch doesn't walk around bellowing at everyone or otherwise going over the top. Instead, the script by Terence Dudley portrays him as someone who probably does value a degree of tolerance and moderation, even if only as a sign of his own supposed wisdom.

With Nyssa and Tegan having only recently joined the Doctor and the previous three serials occupied with the Master and regeneration, "Four to Doomsday" gives us a look at how this crew reacts to more of a stand-alone Doctor Who plot. Tegan isn't particularly interested in staying with the Doctor (he's trying to take her back to Heathrow at the beginning) and is the strongest voice for simply leaving Monarch's ship, displaying noticeable discomfort even before any of them come into conflict with Monarch. The Doctor suspects her of selfishness and seems more irritated than anything else when she tries to pilot the TARDIS, though she argues that she wants to warn Earth of Monarch's invasion plans. At the same time, she stands up to Adric's sexist comments at the beginning, and the fact that she understands the language of an Australian aborigine is presumably meant to show her to be intelligent and accepting of other cultures. (An Australian reviewer over at the Doctor Who Ratings Guide argues convincingly that, at the very least, the details of this scene strain credibility, but I appreciate the intent.) Adric displays a mix of naivete and perhaps a susceptibility to power fantasies, as he's initially somewhat receptive to Monarch, while Nyssa comes off as the most likeable as the three by showing both intelligence and an appropriate skepticism of Monarch's plans.

"Four to Doomsday" is the rare Doctor Who serial that touches upon religious or metaphysical themes, but it proves somewhat oblique in how it handles these issues. The script takes care to contrast Monarch's attitude with the traditional ideas of a benevolent deity. Love is defined as "the exchange of fantasies" in one of his exchanges with his deputies (named "Enlightenment" and "Persuasion"), and he dismisses the notion as "primitive" when Kurkutji, the Australian aborigine, declares that everyone on the ship is going to heaven. Bigon, meanwhile, seems to allude to the Bible in noting that "the poor are always with us," though, logically speaking, this would have to be unwitting on his part, since he's apparently a Greek philosopher of the pre-Christian era. What's strange is that the Doctor seems to have nothing to say on the question of a deity other than the obvious fact that Monarch is not God. It strains credibility that a civilization as advanced as Gallifrey would not have considered this issue, or that the Doctor couldn't or wouldn't try to prove Monarch wrong to dissuade his followers. I can understand why the creative team wouldn't want to risk controversy by ascribing religious beliefs or lack thereof to the Doctor, but it still feels like a missed opportunity from my perspective as a viewer.

The concept of the human-androids also feels only half-developed. Are these androids sentient? Do they literally believe themselves to be the same individuals who were once taken from Earth, or do they see themselves as more akin to clones? And I have to say that, while I'm sure it wasn't intentional, some unsavory racial implications surface in that Bigon, the white male, easily rejects Monarch's ambitions and espouses democracy, while the other three - Kurkutji, the Chinese leader Min Futu, and the Mayan princess Villagra - are initially won over by his promises that they will be given greater power when they return to Earth. Meanwhile, the fourth episode spends a great deal of time on an unnecessary sequence in which the Doctor tries to leap across space to the TARDIS (which Tegan has materialized just outside the ship), and the eventual revolt against Monarch's plans feels like it's over before it started.

What is "Four to Doomsday" about? Is it primarily an examination of relationships among a relatively new TARDIS crew? Is it about a villain who has twisted religious concepts into a self-serving philosophy? Is it a high-concept science fiction story about an alien civilization that was undone by its leader's obsessions and now has created a strange new society populated by androids? Again, I'm reminded of "The Leisure Hive" in that I have to conclude that I'm not sure if it's really "about" any of these things, instead jumping around from one to another. The character-writing and the imagination behind these concepts are enough to make it a worthwhile serial, but it's definitely an underachieving one.

Other Notes:

- The personality of the new Doctor is still developing.
He has moments of whimsy (such as when he speaks to a probe) as well as occasional impatience with his companions (though both Adric and Tegan had it coming in this case), but seems to be a little more straightforward and personable compared to his eccentric predecessor.

- Speaking of racial issues, I also did a double-take at the Doctor using the term "Chinaman," but I'm guessing that this wasn't considered offensive in early-'80s Britain - it's unimaginable that the creative team would deliberately portray the Doctor as a racist.

- The final scene in the TARDIS, in which Nyssa passes out right before the cut to the credits, is a bit of a throwback to early-era Doctor Who in which there was frequently a linking scene between one serial and the next.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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