Mawdryn Undead (1983)

Mawdryn Undead is the first story in the Black Guardian Trilogy. This has become the third such story arc in five years with The Key to Time (1978-79) and The E-Space Trilogy (1980). Nowadays it’s nothing unusual to have a story arc running through several stories but back in 1983 it’s out of the norm. We are introduced to Turlough played by Mark Strickson who is a public school (even though he was 24 when this aired) and by a million to one chance, The Brigadier is also at this school but a teacher. After stealing a car and crashing it, Turlough is given the chance by the Black Guardian (last seen in The Armageddon Factor) to return home to Trion. However he has to kill the Doctor. This is plot over the next three stories and to be honest is two stories too long. This story is written by Peter Grimwade who I think is save to say a much better director than writer. Previous stories have been a tad rubbish.

The main story plot is split between 1977 and 1983 where there are two Brigadiers’ and they have done a clever thing of distinguishing between the two by having one with the trademark moustache. There’s a lovely scene where they are missing each other on Mawdryn’s ship. The moment when they meet and their hands touch shows why the same person from different areas of their own time stream should never meet.

The story seems like it could be totally baffling because of all the different Brigadier’s and one set of characters in 1977 and the other set in 1983. However it doesn’t go too far as to totally ruin my enjoyment. It’s quite nice than in the shows 20th Anniversary year that it allows itself a time to get nostalgic with a scene between the Doctor and the 1983 Brigadier where they allude to what has happened to other members of UNIT. We also learn that the 1983 Brigadier has suffered a nervous breakdown which sadly is never given any detail. What we do get is a wonderful scene in the TARDIS where the Brigadier remembers things from his past and the lovely moment when he realises who the Doctor is also lovely. It might be a tad indulgent but I think from time to time it’s worth it.

There are a few flaws with this story. The first being the design of Mawdryn. I must concede that in 1983 it might have looked quite impressive but sadly with 21st Century eyes it just looks like someone has plonked a bowl of spaghetti on David Collings (Mawdryn) head and it ruins the credibility of the character. Though credit to Collings because he does a great job being the leader of the spaghetti head crew. Another flaw is the idea that Nyssa and Tegan mistaken Mawdryn for the Doctor. I suppose at the time it might have been plausible but I never understood how they could have made such a massive error.

I quite like Turlough. I think that Mark Strickson does the best of bad job. The cliffhanger to the first episode was the most obvious chance that he has to kill the Doctor but faffs around for so long that he loses his chance and he fluffs every other chance over the next twelve episodes. Over the course of his time in the show, we never really learn much about him except in his last story and he’s never really given much of a chance to become a fan favourite during his time on the show and it’s only during his Big Finish time that Mark Strickson is given the material to work with. The Turlough we get in this story isn’t particularly a nice character and acts a bully to ‘Hippo’ Ibbotson. Even going to the stage of blaming him for the crash. It’s a good attempt to portray the character as an unlikeable guy and that’s why I like him. He’s completely different from any male companion in Doctor Who.

This is the first appearance for Nicholas Courtney since Terror of the Zygons in 1976. Since then the character has retired from UNIT and become a teacher. It’s a plausible character development and to be honest I don’t really care because it’s just great to have Courtney back in Doctor Who and we get two of them to add to the excitement.

Out of the three stories from the Black Guardian Trilogy, it’s arguably the best because there seems to be more enthusiasm and more energy in this story than in the next two. Despite the Spaghetti headed Mawdryn, the idea that they need to use the Doctor’s regeneration cycle to survive is quite a good one and it’s definitely one of the better Peter Grimwade written stories.


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