Doctor Who – State of Decay

Doctor Who Story 112 – State of Decay

Written By

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About

Still in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and the stowaway Adric arrive on a feudal planet with a solitary castle, the domain of the Three Who Rule. These rulers have suppressed all technology and kept their subjects in a medieval civilization. These rulers also follow an ancient evil, one that once called the Time Lords rivals.

Reconfigured in aggression mode, Master
The Three Who Rule prepare to sacrifice Romana.
Source: Wikipedia

I don’t remember a thing about this story from my childhood. This is strange, because I remember knowing that Doctor Who had vampires. One of the earliest memories I have of Doctor Who is of the Doctor being cautious because vampires are on Earth. Connected to this is a man dressed in black. He runs away from the Doctor.

As I have renewed my acquaintance with eras that I watched as a child, I know that this early memory is flawed. I don’t believe the Doctor ever encountered vampires on Earth. I do, however, know that the man dressed in black who is running from the Doctor is the Master from “The Five Doctors.” So either I thought the Anthony Ainley Master was a vampire based on costume and performance, or I saw “State of Decay” and inferred a connection, forgetting about the episode in the process. It’s fun trying to match up memories with the show. (For instance, I remember—as a three-year-old—hoping to one day see the human race that the Doctor kept referring to. I wasn’t sure if this was a footrace or a space race, but it was important enough to be mentioned on the show quite a bit, so it had to be good.)

I’ve seen “State of Decay” a few times since then. Each time I seem to have a different opinion. Initially, I loved it, then I was embarrassed by it (the Three Who Rule, in particular, are over-acting), then I thought it was watchable but slow, and this time I thought it was great. The special effects let it down a bit, but it is quite a good story, and Dicks sketches some more history to the Time Lords, an ancient war between Rassilon and ancient vampires.

Watching this story, I remembered a discussion I heard once about how “Logopolis” is a good story, but a strange story for a regeneration. In general, I think we’ve come to expect regeneration stories to be a retrospective of sorts. We remember all the good times we had with this version of the Doctor, and get to mourn him. “Logopolis” is a bit of an oddity as it has little reminiscence on Tom Baker’s era as a whole. But in a way, this entire season is the Fourth Doctor’s final story. With “Meglos” we revisit Graham Williams sensibilities, and with “State of Decay,” we revisit Hinchcliffe sensibilities. Much of the rest of the season is redefining the show, recreating it with an eye to the past. And so I think I will start to look on season eighteen as the true final story; a long one, yes, but the final story all the same. “State of Decay” is the final look at the Fourth Doctor’s era. From this point on, the Doctor is a marked man.

Addendum

I was searching “State of Decay” for a specific screen capture. (Ultimately, I just found something on the internet). I had the video on mute because I was listening to a lecture as I searched. Having “State of Decay” without sound, engaging only with the images, really caught my attention. Peter Moffatt’s directing was fascinating. He blends theater staging with television framing. Watching the movements of the camera and the actors was extremely interesting, and if I had more time in my life, I would love to do a deeper analysis of Doctor Who stories, accounting for both the overall story, but also the visual narrative. If I wasn’t a full-time student, I might actually attempt this. Maybe one day I will do my own version of Doctor Who Revisitations, and re-evaluate stories by giving a deeper analysis.

My Rating

4.5/5

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2 thoughts on “Doctor Who – State of Decay

  1. I am actually very fond of this story. It is certainly an unusual mixture of Terrance Dicks very traditional approach to Doctor Who, the Hinchcliffe & Homes “gothic horror” period, and Christopher H. Bidmead’s desire to bring “hard science” into the series. But I think all those disparate elements somehow manage to coalesce together into a very effective serial.

    Glad you pointed out Peter Moffatt’s directing. I know he is generally considered one of the more, shall we say, average or workman-like of the directors to have worked on the series. But if you look at that one scene in episode two in the throne room with the Doctor, Romana, Zargo, and Camilla, it really is a two or three minute long “talking heads” sequence, yet Moffat really makes it interesting & engaging by keeping the characters constantly in motion, maneuvering around the set and each other. It is extremely well staged. And ever since I first saw it as an eight year old, I’ve always found “State of Decay” to be a very spooky, atmospheric story. I think Moffat’s direction plays a large part in that.

    • It definitely is a successful mixture of such disparate elements. And it was watching the talking head scenes that really impressed me. Watching the characters deliver the dialogue as they move about the set was fascinating. A lot of thought and effort went in to staging those moments as opposed to the usual directing choice of having a wide shot and a stationary camera. Moffatt was trying to make a visually interesting scene, and I think he succeeded. I can’t wait to see his next story.

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