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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin (BBC DVD)

Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin (BBC DVD)

Picture: B
-     Sound: B-     Extras: A     Episodes: A



Many fans of Doctor Who regard The Deadly Assassin episodes as a high point in Tom Baker's run on the show.  Baker's unique take on the time-traveling, seemingly ageless sci-fi adventurer combines a biting wit with a strong physical presence and the trademark long scarf that many casual fans identify as the the "definitive" Doctor Who.  One of the reasons Deadly Assassin weighs so heavily among the hundreds of Who stories aired over the decades is that it establishes so many pillars of the show's canon.

Drawn back to his home world of Gallifrey during a time of tumult in the planet's ruling body, the Doctor runs afoul of an old nemesis who tries to exact revenge on him while restoring his own ravaged body in the bargain.
 The four-part story (number 88 in the series) originally aired on BBC 1 in 1976, and for the first time fully fleshed out the labyrinthine politics of the Time Lords and Gallifrey.  Also introduced is the idea of the Matrix, a fully realized, virtual world where the memories and experiences of every Time Lord are stored for posterity.  Heavy on intrigue, many viewers and critics believe that Deadly Assassin was influenced by the Manchurian Candidate and the assassination of JFK in the previous decade. Certainly, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and others have not disputed this influence, and the story certainly benefits from the source material.

Another notable aspect of The Deadly Assassin is the lack of a companion for the Doctor.
 Tom Baker wanted to try his hand at going it alone after the departure of companion Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen), and the series creators complied, setting the stage for the story's solo adventures on Gallifrey.  Although the concept of companions are central to the show's mythos, their lack in this story actually enhances the plot, and George Pravda makes a brilliant ad hoc Time Lord companion in the role of Castellan Spandrell. Baker and Pravda work so well together that one can see an almost Holmes-Watson partnership, and indeed, there are mysteries aplenty to be solved in The Deadly Assassin.

Like all of BBC's Who releases, this disc is replete with extras.
 The Matrix Revisited details the story behind the making of The Deadly Assassin, and includes interviews with the creators and Tom Baker himself.  The Gallifreyan Candidate provides an invaluable look at the original movie version (reviewed elsewhere on this site) The Manchurian Candidate, its cultural resonance, and some of the relationships between it and The Deadly Assassin.  Finally, Frighten Factor looks at Doctor Who's penchant for scaring its audience, and the nature of fear itself.  The photo gallery and Radio Times Listings are also nice features, but one of the best of the "lesser" extras is the Note Subtitles option, which the viewer can enable while watching the episodes.  This feature works like VH-1's Pop-up Video for Doctor Who, providing informative and funny notes about various moments in the show as the viewer watches.

Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin provides plenty of classic Who action and features Tom Baker at the height of his powers in the role he is most identified with.
 This disc deserves a place in any serious Doctor Who fan's collection.



-   Scott Pyle


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