Doctor Who Supercut "The Deadly Assassin" Revisits Gallifrey Moments

The latest Doctor Who supercut on the show's official BBC YouTube channel is "The Deadly Assassin", cut down from four half-hour episodes to half an hour so we can skip over the slow bits. It's oddly effective because it's a massively flawed and pulpy story. The script by Robert Holmes feels like it was thrown together without much regard for consistency. Even the title is weirdly redundant – "The Deadly Assassin"? Surely being deadly is an assassin's ONE job! You could say the title reflects the story's desperate, trying-too-hard tone. Was Holmes under a major deadline crunch?

Doctor Who:
Tom Baker in Doctor Who: "The Deadly Assassin", BBC

The story introduced the first look at Gallriey since the 2nd Doctor's (Patrick Troughton) final story The War Game. Instead of mysterious, inscrutable all-powerful beings, the timelords are a bunch of old duffers hidebound by dull traditions and red tape. Holmes was obviously satirizing the British Establishment here. The story features a major adventure inside the Matrix. The supercut completely skips over the bit where Doctor runs for President of Gallifrey in order to have access to the objects of power the Master wants to use to restore his life and destroy Gallifrey. This is why the Gallifreyans have referred to him as the President all the way to the modern show in Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi's run.

"The Deadly Assassin": Old School Pulp in Timelord Clothing

The story starts out riffing on the Kennedy Assassination, then rips off The Most Dangerous Game by having the Doctor (Tom Baker) go into the Matrix to get hunted by the Master's (Peter Pratt) minion. There's actually more blood and violence in this story than any other – there's a lot of shooting with actual guns, bloody wounds, the Doctor's hunter gets burned alive, a conventional fistfight, the Doctor held underwater for drowning… this is rather beyond the child-friendly brief the show usually followed. The Master probably has the most horrific make-up in the show's history – a walking burned corpse with bulging eyes. And it was only the attempted drowning that disturbed Mary Whitehouse?!

Doctor Who
The Master in Doctor Who: "The Deadly Assassin", BBC

That said, the story is full of pulp clichés banging up against the Science Fiction rules that make it wildly inconsistent given what the show now has done with the mythology. Before the 21st Century version of the show made the rules consistent, the writers of the old show couldn't seem to keep them straight because they kept them from plotting the stories. Why would the President die from an assassin's bullet? Aren't all Time Lords supposed to be able to regenerate? The Master keeps sneaking around shooting people without always shrinking them to death – the latter at least made nasty sense. It's odd that The Master's antics caused a major disaster that killed thousands, if not millions, yet in the fine pulp tradition, the script just brushes it off. Nowadays, that would be the source of massive angst and trauma.

It's actually more interesting to watch "The Deadly Assassin" now in the context of the massive retcon to the show's mythology with "The Timeless Child". This means nearly all the timelords The Doctor interacted within the story was keeping the true secret of his origins from him as they accused him of assassinating the President, then letting him run for President, then having him save the planet. The story actually takes on an extra layer of poignancy.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist who just likes to writer. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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