I like Four To Doomsday. It’s by no means perfect, but there’s plenty of good things that balance out the elements that work less well. Let’s start by looking at some of the positives.
Stratford Johns as Monarch. I’ve written here about how much I enjoyed the first series of Softly Softly: Task Force, and one of the major strengths of that series was Stratford Johns’ performance. So if you ever fancy seeing what he looks like when he’s isn’t dressed like a frog then the DVD is well worth getting.
Although encumbered by the make-up, Johns is still able to bring a real personality to Monarch. At times charming, but also able to change to murderous rage in an instant, it’s a lovely guest performance.
Tony Burrough’s sets. Whilst Four To Doomsday wasn’t the first story to feature sets with ceilings, there was a real novelty to this at the time, as it allows what otherwise would be fairly static and dull corridor scenes to be lit much more interestingly. And all of the sets look pleasingly solid, there’s no S17 wobbling sets here.
Philip Locke as Bigon. The ending to episode two may lack a little, effects wise, but his final line as he holds up the printed circuit that contains his personality and reason is still compelling.
Roger Limb’s score. It’s a shame that there wasn’t an isolated soundtrack on the DVD (and the fact that there was an iso track for his frankly awful Terminus score demonstrates that there’s no justice in the world).
Peter Davison. This was Davison’s first recorded story, but you wouldn’t know that from his performance. Some have claimed that he plays the Doctor somewhat differently here, but I can’t really see it. He’s totally confident and able to hold his own against the scene-stealing Stratford Johns.
So. that’s the good, what about the bad?
Adric and Tegan. Both aren’t at all well served by the script. It was a feature of his stories that Adric would sometimes pretend to side with the baddies (State of Decay, Castrovalva) but here he swallows Monarch’s claim that he’s the saviour of humanity hook, line and sinker even though he knows that Nyssa is in danger. Any way you try to rationalise it, this is an amazing display of gullibility that does the character no favours at all.
This was only Janet Fielding’s second recorded story and whilst much better was just around the corner (Kinda), here (particularly in episode three when Tegan hysterically tries to take off in the TARDIS) she’s not given much in the script to latch onto and therefore doesn’t come over very well.
Terence Dudley’s script is a mixture of the good and bad. The basic plot doesn’t make a great deal of sense. It’s hard to imagine that the likes of Lin Futu and Bigon would be able to persuade the peoples of Earth that Monarch means them no harm, but for what other reason has he taken them onboard? Also, Bigon tells us that he can’t rebel due to his programming, but Lin Futu is able to replace Bigon’s personality chip (surely a rebellious act?) and then Bigon is quite capable, like the other leaders, to happily incite rebellion.
In my post on Castrovalva I mentioned how there was an air of the Hartnell era about that story and this is certainly also present in Four To Doomsday. Terence Dudley had directed a S18 Story (Meglos) but if you’d told me that prior to that he hadn’t watched the series since about 1965 I would have believed you.
It’s very possible to imagine the first TARDIS crew stepping into Monarch’s ship and expressing amazement at the technological wonders contained within. Whilst 1960’s Doctor Who sometimes had a pessimistic view of science (The Daleks, Planet of Giants, etc) in general there was a fairly positive vibe that scientific progress was a good thing. But as the early 1970’s dawned this was replaced with a more consistantly downbeat tone (Colony in Space, The Mutants, The Green Death, etc).
And just as in Marco Polo, where everybody settles down for a story from Ping Cho, here we see the action stop in both episodes two and four whilst a whole host of different cultures entertain us. This does help to slow down the pace of episode two to an almost glacial level, but like most of Four To Doomsday there’s something strangely compelling about the whole mise en scène.
And that’s much like the whole of Four To Doomsday. As I said at the start, it’s got problems (particularly in the characterisations of Adric and Tegan) but there’s an earnest charm about it that has always appealed to me.