Doctor Who – The Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who - The Deadly Assassin
Doctor Who – The Deadly Assassin

“The Deadly Assassin” is an adventure of the fourteenth season of the “Doctor Who” classic series aired in 1976. It follows “The Hand of Fear” and it’s a four parts adventure written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Maloney.

The story

The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) is heading toward Gallifrey in the Tardis when he has a vision in which the President of the Time Lords is killed. When he arrives on his home planet however the Doctor triggers all alarms and to try to prevent the assassination of the President he has to hide from the guards who want to arrest him.

The Doctor finds the weapon that had appeared in his vision but at that moment the President is killed and the Doctor is caught in a compromising situation to say the least.

To avoid being summarily executed the Doctor must quickly find the evidence of his innocence, even penetrating into the virtual reality of the Matrix, a new battlefield to face an old enemy.


This DVD contains a fair amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of images from this adventure and the Radio Times Billings PDF file.

In the alternate audio track there’s the commentary to the adventure by the star Tom Baker, actor Bernard Horsfall and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.

The Matrix Revisited. A documentary about the production of this adventure with some interviews with the protagonists.

The Gallifreyan Candidate. An evaluation of the influence of the film “The Manchurian Candidate” on the adventure “The Deadly Assassin”.

The frighten Factor. A short documentary that seeks to establish what constitutes the fear factor in “Doctor Who”.

“The Deadly Assassin” marks the beginning of a new era primarily because it follows the last adventure of Sarah Jane Smith, one of the most popular companions of the series. It’s unique because the Doctor is alone while in the original series he often had various companions with him but even if there was only one when he (or she) left the Doctor immediately met another one who started travelling with him.

At that point Tom Baker wanted to go on without companions because he felt he could carry the program on his own. Often the companion’s function is to ask the doctor what’s going on to allow the audience to understand for example what planet they are on or the function of strange machines: Tom Baker thought he could simply talk to himself. 🙂

“The Deadly Assassin” works very well without companions but that’s because the story is structured in such a wat that the Doctor can interact with other Time Lords in a way similar to how he interacts with his companions, so the audience can understand what’s going on on Gallifrey. For this reason this adventure without companions remained an isolated case in the classic series.

“The Deadly Assassin” has also become a milestone in the Doctor Who saga because it gives us much more information about the Time Lords than previous adventures, including the limit of twelve regenerations and the introduction of the Matrix.

Today “The Deadly Assassin” is considered a classic but when it was broadcasted it was a bit controversial even among fans, not only because the story is quite violent but also because of the description of the Time Lords society: many fans would have wanted them to be more aliens instead the way they’re shown they seem very human.

The little we knew of the Time Lords before was from some mentions by the Doctor and from what we saw in the adventures “The War Games” and “The Three Doctors” in which they appeared as semi-divine beings who have an incredibly advanced level of technology .

In “The Deadly Assassin” we see the Time Lords technology but we also see their stagnation. They use their extraordinary machines without really knowing their operating principles because over the millennia they have taken them more and more for granted and have forgotten a lot of their scientific knowledge.

In “The Deadly Assassin” there’s a deconstruction of of Time Lords society, who are seen as decadent and corrupt. We see for example a ceremony where they wear showy and pompous costumes to mask the emptiness of contents because for Time Lords putting on display is a way to hide the rottenness in their society.

When the President is killed without having designated a successor the only candidate for the office’s sole interest is to get rid of the Doctor as soon as possible without taking into account the most basic constitutional guarantees.

It’s clear that on Gallifrey laws exist only in theory but in fact those in charge only need to show a formal compliance while in reality they can manipulate facts to suit their convenience to clear each of their violations.

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It doesn’t look like on Gallifrey there’s a great control by the media over what the authorities do: in “The Deadly Assassin” there’s a journalist the Doctor calls “Runcible the fatuous” and that says a lot about the level of the category.

The context of “The Deadly Assassin” is reminiscent of the Earth’s Cold War also for the inspiration to the film “The Manchurian Candidate”: there’s also a not so subtle reference when the Time Lords’ Secret Service is mentioned and it’s called C.I.A. as in Celestial Intervention Agency.

Despite the perplexities of the time, the way Robert Holmes depicted the Time Lords society was used in the rest of the series giving “The Deadly Assassin” the status of classic. It’s for this reason that, despite the extras interesting but far from exceptional, anyone who wants to have at least the most important “Doctor Who” DVDs must include this in their collection.

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