Timestamp #126: Mawdryn Undead

Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead
The Black Guardian Trilogy, Part I

(4 episodes, s20e09-e12, 1983)

 

The Key to Time comes home to roost.

A schoolboy named Turlough steals (and totals) the Brigadier’s car, offering quite the introduction to a new companion. He has an out of body experience after the crash, though both he and his classmate Ibbotson will be fine. The Brig, on the other hand, is incensed. After all, it was a rare 1929 Humber 16/50 Open Tourer (Imperial Model).

The out of body experience is courtesy of the Black Guardian, who seeks revenge against the Doctor after their last encounter. As Turlough recovers at the school, he discovers a crystal that links him to the Black Guardian, and we learn that he is not native to Earth. Under the Guardian’s influence, he leaves the infirmary (with a reluctant Ibbotson) and boards a transmat capsule.

Speaking of, our heroes are moving through time and space. Tegan is recovering from her experience with the Mara, Nyssa has a new wardrobe, and the TARDIS gets knocked off course. They nearly collide with a nearby spacecraft before materializing inside it, and the travelers find that the ship is abandoned. In fact, Tegan makes a Mary Celeste quip, continuing a Doctor Who tradition. The crew sought refuge on Earth as the ship swung through an elliptical flight path, which it does every six years. As the travelers attempt to leave – the TARDIS is trapped there by the plot – Turlough arrives on the ship and sneaks into the TARDIS. Everyone eventually converges on the phone box, and the Doctor takes Turlough back to Earth to disable the trap, leaving Tegan and Nyssa behind. As the Doctor works on releasing the transmat beam, Turlough nearly kills him with a rock, but the plot is foiled as the transmat device inadvertently explodes. Turlough is knocked back and the TARDIS materializes and vanishes.

Turlough and the Doctor are intercepted by the Brigadier, who doesn’t recognize the Doctor at all. The Doctor chalks up the memory lapse to his regeneration, but the Brigadier’s memory is still a blank. Meanwhile, Nyssa and Tegan explore the area and find a transmat capsule. Inside, they find a severely burned version of the Doctor who asks to be taken to the TARDIS.

The Doctor accompanies the Brigadier to the officer’s quarters. They discuss prior adventures, all of which seems to jog the Brigadier’s memory as he flashes back to the Second Doctor and a Cyberman, the Third Doctor’s awakening and regeneration, his brief encounter with the First Doctor, the Yeti,  an Axon, a Dalek, and his first and last encounters with the Fourth Doctor. Sadly, he’s also suffering from a nervous breakdown. As they share tea, the Doctor mentions Tegan and the Brigadier remembers a Tegan from several years ago. Turns out, they are the same person.

Putting the pieces together, we find that Nyssa, Tegan, and the TARDIS are in 1977, but the Doctor is trapped in 1983. Tegan elicits the help of the 1977 Brigadier while the burned Doctor supposedly regenerates into a new form called Mawdryn (cloaked in the Fourth Doctor’s maroon overcoat) and orders Nyssa to take the TARDIS to the abandoned starship. When the 1977 Brigadier arrives, they group finds a scream-worthy Mawdryn with his brain exposed. Mawdryn continues the ruse of a failed regeneration and eventually convinces the companions to return to the starship.

In 1983, the Doctor realizes that the events of 1977 may be the reason for the Brigadier’s breakdown. After finding the Guardian’s crystal, the Doctor also determines that they must intercept Turlough before the boy determines how to operate the transmat capsule. Together, they fix the homing beam, but it soon self-destructs. Luckily, the Brigadier has a homing device that was a gift from Tegan, and the Doctor uses it to take all of them to the starship via the transmat capsule. There’s a minor caveat: If Brig-83 and Brig-77 were to meet each other, the results would be catastrophic. As Tegan would say, ZAP!

The Doctor and Brig-83 find a room with stolen regeneration technology, and the Doctor presumes that Mawdryn (whom he refers to as the “creature”) wanted to regenerate, which poses a whole bushel of questions about using Time Lord technology to regenerate non-Gallifreyans. Meanwhile, Turlough works his way to the TARDIS and discovers a room of beings in the same state as Mawdryn.

Through a confusing series of events, Brig-83 encounters Mawdryn and hooks him up to the regeneration machine, Brig-77 encounters the rest of Mawdryn’s people, the Doctor reunites with Tegan and Nyssa, and Turlough returns to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Nyssa meet up with Brig-83 and get the story from Mawdryn, discovering that they are mutants who tried to use regeneration technology but instead ended up immortal and in continuous agony. Tegan arrives just before the rest of Mawdryn’s people, and the mutants beg for the secret to end their pain. Unfortunately, if the Doctor gives them that energy, he will expend all of his remaining regenerations and will die. The Doctor refuses, and the mutants scheme.

The Black Guardian realizes that the Brigadier’s presences may jeopardize his plans, so he orders Turlough to detain one of them. Soon enough, Brig-77 is locked away and Turlough returns to the TARDIS. The Doctor orders Turlough to take Brig-77 to the transmat capsule as Brig-83 returns to Earth on the TARDIS. The Doctor is forced to return to the starship, however, as the mutants have infected Nyssa and Tegan with their malady, which is exacerbated by time travel. The Doctor attempts to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow to escape the warp ellipse that confines the starship, but the attempt turns them into (rather adorable) children. The Doctor reverses it again and returns to the starship just as Brig-77 tries to leave (unsuccessfully) via transmat.

The Doctor has no choice but to sacrifice himself to end the loop. Everyone converges on the regeneration laboratory and Brig-83 begins the procedure. It is interrupted by Brig-77 who, by touching Brig-83, releases a large temporal energy wave. Nyssa and Tegan are cured, the Doctor is saved, and Mawdryn’s people are freed of their undead existence. The travelers return to the TARDIS and both Brigadiers are returned to their proper times, although Brig-77 won’t remember anything until he encounters the Doctor in 1983. The abandoned starship self-destructs, ending the loop for good.

And then there’s Turlough, who has stowed away on the TARDIS. He asks to join the Doctor’s crew, and the trilogy continues.

I admired how heroic the Doctor was. It added a certain degree of power to the story that we haven’t seen in some time. I also loved how the companions were able to carry a substantial part of the story. It was also nice to see the Brigadier again, despite the obvious internal continuity issues (First, Tegan didn’t give him the tracker. Second, there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t have been able to rationalize this adventure with everything he knows about the Doctor.) and the entire UNIT dating controversy. I know that I’ve been hard on him in the past, but he’s softened on the Doctor over time.

Overall, this was an entertaining and well-written story that handled split time periods quite nicely.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Terminus

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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5 thoughts on “Timestamp #126: Mawdryn Undead

  1. I think that you definitely see around this time period that the show is settling in with its producer and script editor having an actual vision for the show.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the inconsistency of the Brigadier retiring as a school teacher. A lot of people find that one hard to swallow. You may know this already but the part that the Brig played was originally going to be Ian, but William Russell ended up not being available, so they needed to use another character with a long history with the Doctor. While Ian would have made more sense at the school, I’m glad that they didn’t use him, because I don’t want to see a future Ian without Barbara.

    I liked the idea of a companion planted to subvert the Doctor. One of the things that JNT understood was that you had to hook the audience and take away the “safeness” of the show. You saw that with Adric’s death and you see that here. Looking forward to how you see the rest of the series.

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