Four to Doomsday

Four to Doomsday
Four to Doomsday.jpg
Season: 19
Episode: 2
Vital statistics
Air date 18 - 26 January 1982
Written by Terence Dudley
Directed by John Black
Episode guide
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Castrovalva Kinda

Fart To Doomsday was the second undistinguished serial of the diminished 19th season of the tarnished British science-fiction televisioned series Doctor OhBooWho, and was first timidly broadcast in four twice-weekly parts from 18–26 January 1982. Written by Terence Dudley (emphasis on the “dud”), the working title for this story was Mr. Toad’s Wrath. It was the first full full story filmed featuring the fetching Based Davison (“Bavison”) as the Fifth Doctor not covered in flour.

This story was a replacement for an abandoned script called both Project Zeta Sigma, then Project 4G (apparently it wasn’t about fourth generation mobile telecommunications technology, but did still demonstrate their interest in putting the number four in a title), written by John Flanagan & Andrew McCulloch. That story was about a war between two planets actually fucking called the Doves and the Hawks, featured the Master posing as a scientist for the Hawks and was secretly, super secretly, a parable about nuclear disarmament; Superman 4 wasn’t made till 1987, so if completed, this story would have set Doctor Who as being ahead of it’s time, might have explained why they thought this would be a good idea for a story, and might have prevented the making of Superman 4 all in one go. Anyway, producer John Nathan-Turner dropped that script saying it was unworkable - pretty ironic, huh?  JNT really is the gift that keeps on giving, providing more fractal layers of oh dear god why the deeper you look.

It was wisely decided that after Castrovalva, the Doctor should only travel with two companions, so they were about to pitch Nyssa off the side in an earlier version of this story until Bavison argued to keep her around because he thought Nyssa “most suited to his vision of the Doctor," which translated means “she’s rather pleasing to look at,” even though he never got her to raise her arms above her head while wearing a tube-top like he did Tegan, ha ha!  Man I wished someone had filmed that. Anyway, John Nathan-Turnout and the rest of the production team logically decided to her on but somehow failed to logically use this as an excuse to throw Adric out instead, WTF? Nyssa kinda hadn’t been written into the next story Kinda, so they just said she was “resting in the TARDIS,” set up by her collapsing at the end of this story due to sexual exhaustion.

Terence Dudley somehow managed to make something good while directing Tom Baker’s Meglos but failed to make anything good when he wrote this, Black Orchid, and The King's Demons. Bavison didn’t like his work much, especially Black Orchid, if you listen to the commentary track for that one, which comes as no surprise.  What does surprise is that Dudley Don’twrite almost (re)wrote the script for the very first Doctor Who ever, An Unearthly Child, but turned down the job.

Much like Fivey himself, this story is neither here nor there, bad nor awful, painful nor worth celebrating. You can easily find worse and better and even more generically bland that this one.  When the usual sources can’t find much of interest to say about what was happening behind the scenes (“Janet Fielding hauled off and punched Matthew Waterhouse on-set,” “the monster was made of used Dixie cups found in the canteen rubbish bin”), this should tell you something.  With that in mind, let me now waste over four thousand words telling you about it.

Part One, Watching People Watch Doctor Who

The Doctor desperately searches for a better plot.

A boxy space ship quivers by while the synth score plays a variation on “wah-wahhh” that’s supposed to be  ominous i guess - off to a bad start!  The Tardis pops on-board, not at Heathrow as planned, which is what happens when you let Adric drive. The Doctor - I mean Bavison - puts on a silly space helmet and goes out to look, only to be looked at himself by a floating bowling ball. In fact, we watch someone else and the rest of the Tardis crew watch Doctor Who on television for a few minutes.  

The young’ns on the Tardis bicker and Adric makes sure he’s never going to get laid.  Soon they all have their own silly space helmets on and are poking around the spaceship’s machinery while the bowling ball watches them and people talk about them off-screen - riveting stuff!  Tegan is very excited by a door.  Bavison and Tegan leave Nyssa and Adric to go meet another bowling ball and Tegan complains after walking down a second corridor - she’s obviously new to Doctor Who.   

They meet three green aliens who look like toads but one is named after a butterfly, who ask them to take off those silly space helmets. Tegan does some fashion sketching while Adric looks lost in the Tardis and Nyssa meets an old Greek man. The Doctor can’t explain artron energy, marking the first time we’ve seen him get tripped up over his own techno-babble since Hartnell left the show. Adric walks, then shows up with Bavison and the aliens. The green alien stands up! Bavison keeps saying “thank you” to the bowling balls.  

Reuniting with Bavison and his two puppies, Nyssa anticipates her cue and starts removing her silly space helmet before she can actually see them coming.  The green alien tries to get into the Tardis with his floppy glove.  The old Greek dude (cough “Athenian”) brings in some food.  An Australian Aborigine comes in and somehow doesn’t speak English (doesn’t the Tardis translate all that?) but of course Tegan knows how to speak Aborigine, just like how every white person in America knows several hundred Native American languages and every German person knows Yiddish, right?  Funny the old guy didn’t speak Greek, isn’t it? Then they meet a Mayan lady and the Doctor quips “that’s going back a bit;” no doubt Ian Levine threw in that gem. Then they meet a Chinese guy who does speak English (and the Doctor makes a lame joke) so I’m pretty confused (more on this in ‘alf a mo’).   Just then, two more people walk in, some sort of shift-shapers - it’s the other two green aliens (the ones who didn’t stand up) who now look just like the hyper-realistic fashion drawings Tegan made. You call this a cliffhanger?  

Surely this story will be remembered as one of the greats, based on this enthralling first chapter! My head was spinning with wild speculation and the many electric questions this story already set up after only 24 minutes!  

  • Who are the “four” hinted at in that astonishing title?  (answer: no idea)
  • Would we ever see that green toad alien guy stand up again or would the shift-shaper alien lady ever wear her rigid, toy-store toad mask again?  (answers: yes and thankfully not)
  • Could the show find a chance to use those silly space helmets again?  (answer: more times than they should have)
  • What significance was there to everyone but the Aborigine and the Mayan speaking English that wasn’t, uh, somehow racist?  I mean, is this some kind of unconscious twaddle like “we know the Greeks were civilized because we got so many great stories, forms of government and acceptance of homosexuality from them, and we know the Chinese were civilized because they invented gunpowder, movable type and paper and other cool shit.  But the Mayans were only sort of civilized - sure, they built some bad-ass cities but they also sacrificed people every time their home team lost a ball-court game and they never invented wheels, while the Aborigines just walked about with almost no clothes on where it’s really hot, so neither group is civilized enough to get lines in English”?  Making a boat something like seventy thousand years ago and then surviving in the hellhole we know today as Australia is no mean feat, you know.  But who can really answer this except Dudley.  And how did Philter Sandiflush fail to say anything about this in his write-up of this story?  (answer: don’t worry Phil, you can chew that around all you like in the expanded version of your write-up when the book comes out in, what 2021?)

My heart racing, I knew it would be days before I dared watch the second part of this explosive story known as Fail To Doomsday!

Part Two: We Discover What They Do In Here

The humans on the ship from across history won’t tell Bavison anything, because Mr. Toad said not to.  Nyssa looks a bit bored while the shift-shaper green dude (who looks like Bill Hader but more weaselly) gives everyone some tea from his cup or something, I’m not sure what was going on there.  Adric gets confused by the numbers “3 billion” and “one,” but at least appears to be trying to act for once.  The old Greek - sorry, Athenian - guy looks like an old Simon Pegg and explains how he was taken from Earth a hundred generations ago, although the ship is now heading back there with all the green alien toad guys who’ve been converted to downloads or something.   

Bavison, realizing people are watching a bad Doctor Who story, covers the camera with his hat and uses a device other than his sonic screwdriver to drown out the conversation; this iconic scene lead the young Davies and Moffat to swear a blood oath with one another to ensure that the sonic screwdriver would be used multiple times each episode if they were ever put in charge of Doctor Who - no really, it’s true, look it up, they hated that the Doctor needed to pull out a second sonic device we’d never seen before (or since).

Bavison and friends discuss history and do some math (with little help from “math prodigy” Adric you’ll note) about how this Greek Simon Pegg guy (“peg” ha ha) came from which period of history how many thousands of years ago, all  unconsciously pitching it from Tegan’s (our) viewpoint and place in history, as if Bavison, Adric and Nyssa - all pointedly introduced as being not human last episode - would care what had happened on her backwater world in what time frame.  Weird huh?

Bavison and the children go for a walk, split up, and find some humans doing some supposedly culturally-relevant ceremonial dance things - you know, like one of those awkward “cultural festival” your parents drag you to, but without any decent ethnic food to break the boredom.  By the way, one of the Greek guys sitting watching it is clearly wearing sneakers, which isn’t as adorable a slip-up as Sutek’s chair-hand, but then again, what is?  Mr. Toad tells the Athenian not to tell Bavison about the secret plan or being over two thousand years old, so everyone here is somehow quite old and it’s a secret, OK?  

Adric and Nyssa walk into a greenhouse where the people won’t speak to them, then walk back out having learned nothing, so of course we cut back to the Mayan women dancing for a few more seconds, and then a Chinese Dragon parade dance starts.  Bavison describes his acting method on Doctor Who with “try to look as if you’re enjoying yourself.”  Adric and Nyssa wheeze together, put on their silly space helmets and discover that these humans don’t need oxygen and still won’t talk to them and who can blame them?  I wouldn’t give that pair the fucking time of day, night or galactic rotational period.  Well, OK, I would Nyssa, but not if she insisted on hanging around with Adric.  Also, I’m still not sure why Mr. Toad is letting them wander around and learn all this stuff but whatever.  

The Chinese dragon stomp-wiggles offstage and the Greeks start doing some gladiator combat which ends up being neither as exciting nor potentially gay as it could have been.  Bavison and the Athenian old Simon Pegg guy conspire to talk alone, again.  Nyssa and Adric also basically repeat their previous scene before we cut back to the fighting gladiators and see one of them blow his cue during the carefully choreographed (if not practiced) fight.  Tegan is shocked to see him stabbed by a blade being thrust through the air beside his chest!   

And so of course now we have to see some Aborigines start dancing - this story is just about repetition isn’t it?  “Four Repeated Episodes To Doomsday” more like.  We’ve just watched each of the four groups of people from across history all do the same two things: Nyssa and Adric watch them work around the ship for the toads and Bavison and Tegan watch them do “cultural” dancing, none of which adds up to anything except running time.  Bavison agrees, “I can't say I share your taste in entertainment.”

The stabbed gladiator/cue-blowing guy with a bloodless wound walks into the Chinese lab looking like JNT dressed for gladiatorial combat which I’m going to comment on, gets on a table, glows, and then gets up good as new, sans wound.  Nyssa observes “so that’s what they do in here” with as little interest as humanly possible, it’s really a bad, bad line reading.  Bygone (the old Simon Pegg dude) flashes Bavison and Adric what’s under his tunic, revealing that he’s an android.  

Needless to say, this adrenaline-soaked yarn left my senses aflame, rocketing skyward with enthusiasm for the next charged section of this exhilarating story - clearly Bavison’s run on this show was destined to be the best Doctor Who ever!

Part Three:  Adric Confirms He Is The Little Shit We All Suspected Him To Be And There’s A Frog

We get to rewatch Bygone’s silly flip-up face “special effect” again and rarely has the term “special effect” felt more egregiously misapplied, but we’ll let Bygones be Bygones.  Ha ha!  Sorry, but that was just too easy, much like this outing of Doctor Who.  Mr. Toad has apparently told Adric and Nyssa the same thing about being androids, so Nyssa has to repeat it again to make sure we all understand: “You’re androids!”  Sigh.  Love is defined as “the exchange of two fantasies” which sounds about right: the programme producers fantasize they’re producing something worth watching and we, being in love, fantasize they’re right.   

Adric, weary of his catholic schoolgirl mustache, is much taken with the frog’s plan to make all humanity on Earth androids too.  Failing that, the toad alien intends to conquer Earth with a poison Old Bygone says is “the deadliest in the known universe” (but what about The Judas tree, which by the way isn’t even poisonous in real life?) that shrinks you down to the size of a grain of rice somehow - so you know, something like the Master’s dildo-ray I guess.  

So: up to now this has been a painfully slow connect-the-alien-invasion-forehead-bumps, but things should really start gearing up, right?  Right!  Mr. Toad coughs while the green lady praises him and they chose to keep that take.  Nyssa decries Mr. Toad’s Tyranny, which to be fair was less popular than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, while the quisling lick-spittle Adric swallows it all (ha ha).  Mr. Toad unconvincingly tells Nyssa he’s sorry the Master wot killed ‘er dad, like this story has all the time in the world to just sit in place and spin its backstory wheels while Adric info-dumps the programme’s premise.  

They make a point to show us Tegan holding the non-screwdriver sonic device again, yet stopped inserting its sound effect quite some time ago.  Tegan gets shouty with Bavison so he leaves her to go waste some more exploratory time with the Bygone Greek/Athenian/old Simon Pegg guy, even though this story is already more than half over.  Bavison makes a bowling ball spin and Bygone encourages him to wear the silly space helmet again.  Nyssa falls asleep and marches down to android processing, Bavison plays with a cricket ball in a library and Adric is lost but then finds his way while Tegan paces - all within about two minutes!  The fact that this story is still nothing but padding is proven beyond all doubt when when Bygone tells Bavison in the very next scene that he can take off his silly space helmet.   

Nyssa gets put into a shower stall and a different silly space helmet.  Adric and Tegan argue and she pushes him away and walks off in her greatest two seconds of screen time ever, because Adric fell down and hit his head against a crate which knocked him out.  

I could watch this all day.

But then, in what is unarguably this story’s absolute best moment, there’s a real live frog in a clear Plexiglas box.  Bavison has already made a jokey comment about these aliens being sort of froggy, but really they weren’t and unfortunately, putting a real live frog on set only highlighted this make-up misstep.  Not that I have anything against Doctor Who using real live animals on set - in fact, I’m quite taken by the notion!  This little green fellow only got perhaps a second or two of screen time, but I think he was a “red-eyed tree frog” (Agalychnis callidryas), one of those arboreal hylids native to Neotropical rainforests ranging from from Mexico down to Colombia, notable for their pale cream-colored belly and bright green color elsewhere, plus those wee little suction-cup-tipped fingers and toes.  Oh yes, and the red eyes.  Their scientific name Agalychnis callidryas - that’s what you call that weird gobbledygook double-word you always see after an animal’s real name, sort of like a nickname that scientists have agreed to use so they don’t get you confused with, say, Hyla arborea or Hypsiboas rosenbergi (all fine frogs I’ll grant you, but you’ll never find a more loyal frog than Agalychnis callidryas) - sparks some interest...

Fan theory: the red tree frog’s scientific nickname comes from the Greek words kallos (beautiful) and Dryas (a tree or wood nymph), so maybe those Greek words hint at an intentional “thematic connection” to the Old Greek dude?  Could be!  Let’s follow this further and see where it goes: red-eyed tree frogs are also quite excellent jumpers, like most frogs of course, so it’s not too farfetched to connect that to this story’s theme about “traveling frog/toad aliens.”  Oh, but red-eyed tree frogs are not at all poisonous like poison dart frogs (any member of the Dendrobatidae froggy family), so overall I guess that rather spoils my theory about this real live frog being placed on set for some hidden meaning.  

Still, tree frogs are often sold and kept as pets, just imagine the fun you could have pretending to be an android and helping your slimy new friend conquer your neighborhood!  Or, if you’re French, you could eat his legs.  I’d say the frog we saw in the Plexiglas box had legs maybe four inches long at best; that’s a bit small for a meal so you might want to batter them like a chicken wing if your pet frog has legs like that.  People usually eat larger frogs’ legs though, like a bullfrog’s.  Bullfrogs can be real ornery bastards though, but if someone was trying to eat my legs, I bet I’d be in a foul mood too.  Look, I realize this digression about frogs might be a bit much, but it really does help to think about such things during a forgettable Doctor Who story, plus I get paid by the word for these write-ups.

Anyway, Tegan goes back to the Tardis and can close the door but nothing else.  Bavison and Bygone get Nyssa out of the shower and Adric wakes up while Tegan still can’t fly the Tardis, Christ.  The Chinese guy rats out Bavison to Mr. Toad and we see Tegan again still not operating the Tardis and getting rather upset about it, in one of the few scenes I’ve seen her actually attempt acting acting in; for all I know, that might be more the director’s fault than hers, I’ve never seen her in anything else.  Bygones has a small SWJ moment echoing something this story’s been hinting at whenever it can, you know, manage to find time to slip it in between all the exciting moments of thrilling excitement.  And the dancing.  Adric bursts in, tells Bavison that Tegan’s trying to move the Tardis and his “oh good grief!” response feels very fitting for this story.  Bill Hader shows up with some gladiators and Tegan gets the Tardis to dematerialize after all.  Bavison is about to be beheaded and so just as the story seems to be gaining some momentum, the damn episode has to go and end of course.  But OK, now that you can call a cliffhanger, at least.

Part Four: Adding This Story To My List Of ‘Doctor Who Stories I’ll Never Watch Again’

Adric is useless in helping Bavison so Nyssa has to save him by using the sonic screwdriver and a pencil on herself - I mean, using them herself.  Ahem.  Tegan does nothing in the Tardis after somehow, improbably, making it shift slightly to the left (no, my left; no, not that way, this way, your other left).  So then Nyssa gets taken away for another nap and Tegan finds… oh Jesus Christ, really?  She actually pulls a "Tardis Type 40 operating manual" out of her ass that’s apparently in English, but mumbo-jumbo English and to make things worse now the Aborigines start dancing again.  Bavison lies to Adric and they rush off to watch the dancing, rather than doing what he just said he was going to do; Adric’s so stupid he doesn’t realize that, too.   

After an exciting climb up some stairs, Bavison spells out for Adric what a little shit he’s been in a scene that felt far too short; they could have made an entire episode out of that and it could have only vastly improved this story in fact.  Bill Hader watches this conversation, so it’s another scene about watching people watch Doctor Who.   Tegan, fed up with having to watch the Mayan women dance again, treats the Tardis manual like I want to treat this script.  Bavison conspires with the Chinese guy because they’re the most powerful race on Earth, and asks to see the damn dragon dance again.  What is it with this story and dancing?  Really, the stupid idea of these android people sitting around in space and endlessly rewatching the same dances over and over again for the two thousand years is starting to sound more and more like a description of this story.  

Tegan winces at a stupid line from the toad guy while Bavison, old Simon Pegg, and Adric sneak out under cover of non-dancing dragon and next the Greeks do what they do best: nearly nude men wrestling with a lot of grunting, which seems to excite the lady android.   The Chinese guy tells Bavison that their “lubrication freezes and their joints seize up,” and I’m just leave that there and not saying anything else about it.   Adric puts on a Sontaran costume and they program all the android people to do all their dances all at once, in case you missed all of them in all the previous scenes.  This isn’t Doctor Who, it’s Dancing In The Stars.  Toady guy quite rightly asks “what is going on?!” when he sees this on his telly, much like we all were. Ok, here’s the exciting, action-packed finale, such as it is:   Bavison goes swimming in space to get the Tardis wearing only his silly space helmet, but misses it somehow.  Bill Hader shows up but Adric is a bad shot, so he then tries to strangle the android who doesn’t need to breathe.  Bavison comes back and rips out Bill Hader’s circuits, leaving him in a stupid pose.  Bavison misses the Tardis again for some reason.  The lady android shows up and knocks Adric out by bouncing a laser blast off his hand and unties Bavison’s rope, leaving him “in space forever, going nowhere,” just like this story.   Adric comes as close to getting on top of a woman as he ever will.   Using some real science for the first time in the history of the programme, Bavison turns his cricket ball into a bouncing red spot of light and reaches the Tardis.  He and Tegan dart out of the Tardis so the green toad guy just walks away, completely ignoring the fact they’ve left the Tardis door open; this green frog-man was trying to get inside the Tardis back in episode one and it’s pretty obvious that Bavison and crew would have to come back sometime, but nooo, he just wanders off shouting for guards that he already knows are stuck doing their dances.   Bavison pants and the toad sits back down again, no doubt nearly overcome by all the excitement.  Not speaking for the viewing public in any way, he remarks “now all I have to do is wait, and that is something I do very very well indeed.”  We get another quick cut of all the dancers dancing willy-nilly for some reason, then Bavison gets to wear yet another silly space helmet.  Turns out even the toad guy got tired of waiting and goes after Bavison and his younger siblings with a gun (something we’ve all wanted to do at least once), showing up back at the Tardis after all.  So they throw the shrink poison at him (turns out he wasn’t an android like everyone else) then put a silly space helmet on him too - I guess those were good for something after all!  All the historical dancers and people stay on the ship and Nyssa faints unconvincingly.  She probably needed another nap after all this pulse-pounding excitement.  

When The Dancing Stops

What a corker!  But I’m still not sure what the title was referring to.  Also, how come we never saw the frog again?  And was the frog an android too?  Now I’m beginning to wonder if that Greek guy wearing tennis shoes wasn’t some sort of clue I’ve missed...