Doctor Who: State of Decay
(4 episodes, s18e13-e16, 1980)
“The Doctor is not weaponless. He has the greatest weapon of all: Knowledge.”
Beneath a protective castle with village dwellings huddled like ducklings round their mother, it is the time of selection, and Captain of the Guard Habris is instructed to choose well. The best in the village are pulled aside by the village elder Ivo, and Habris chooses from among them. He also chooses the elder’s son, leaving the man and his wife distraught. Out in the cosmos, the Doctor and Romana continue their search for another path out of E-Space. K9 detects the planet from the opening scenes, and away they go.
The castle looks like a rocket – Can they possibly telegraph the twist any more heavily? – which matches with K9’s assessment of high technology on the planet. The Time Lords go exploring while K9 guards the TARDIS and Adric skulks about. They arrive as Ivo and Habris argue, and his request to meet a scientist is met with fear and alarm. When the Time Lords leave, Ivo pulls out a hidden radio unit and spreads the word to someone named Kalmar.
Ivo reports back to the king, queen, and court adviser – the Three Who Rule, with makeup consideration provided by The Rocky Horror Picture Show – with news of the Doctor and Romana. The adviser, Aukon, sends his bat servants to find them. In the interim, the Time Lords are surrounded by what look like Dungeons & Dragons druids who lead the travelers to Kalmar and a cave full of technology. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge is forbidden on the planet, and the penalty for knowledge is death. Everyone works in the fields as soon as they are able.
The Doctor fixes the gear in the cave and it displays information about the Earth cargo vessel Hydrax, its mission, and its crew. The three officers – Captain Miles Sharkey, Navigator Lauren MacMillan, and Science Officer Anthony O’Connor – bear a striking resemblance to the Three Who Rule. The Doctor decides to meet them, and Kalmar sets them free. As they make their way through the forest, Aukon’s bats attack!
Ah, the time honored tradition of swinging rubber bats on a fishing pole around your actors.
As the bats depart, Habris arrives and ushers the Time Lords to the court of the Three Who Rule. The king and queen entertain the Time Lords – the dialogue is clumsy: “We know everything here,” but, seconds later, they admit that they don’t know why the Time Lords are there – and provide a venue for a discussion on class politics. The Doctor tests a theory by toasting Romana, breaking her glass and cutting her thumb. Strangely, the king and queen are entranced by the blood. The discussion continues as Romana and the Doctor muse of the reverse evolution of the planet’s society: A literal state of decay.
*ding* There’s the title.
After the Doctor mentions the Hydrax, Habris arrives to ferry the king and queen to the Time of Arising. They leave the Time Lords alone in the throne room, and our heroes put the pieces together. Lo and behold, the castle is the missing ship. They explore the ship and track a strange thumping noise to a cargo bay. Inside, they discover a collection of exsanguinated corpses. Their blood is being stored in the fuel tanks. Proceeding deeper, they trace the fuel lines into the cave network beneath the castle.
At this point, it is time to catch up on the Adventures of Adric.
Adric attempts to leave the TARDIS but is stopped by K9. After a minor twist of logic, he is allowed to leave on his own. Adric makes his way to the village and is caught trying to steal food. The elder and his wife take him in for the night as a surrogate for their son. Adric passes the time by working for his benefactors, and as they explain their lives on the planet, he recommends insurrection. In a surprise move, Habris arrives for another bout of selection, this time by Aukon who selects Adric because the boy is an alien. Aukon takes Adric to the queen and king in the caves beneath the castle. Aukon wants to use Adric for his plan, and convinces his co-conspirators to follow along. Adric, strangely, is silent for this whole affair.
Back to our normally scheduled plot.
The Time Lords explore the caves, musing on legends of vampires throughout time and space. It all comes together when they find Aukon in the Resting Place, his domain as a vampire. Aukon tries to convince the Doctor to join him, offering the knowledge of the Great One – “he who brought us here” – on how to leave E-Space, but the Doctor is not swayed. Aukon reveals that Adric will be the first of the chosen ones, leaving the Time Lords distraught that he is here and not on his home planet. Aukon unleashes all of psychic power on the Doctor, but Romana throws a stalagmite at him, the vampire releases his grip. Discovering that they are Time Lords, Aukon declares them the enemy, and they are surrounded by the Three Who Rule. The Time Lords are selected as a sacrifice and taken to a cell.
The Doctor reminisces on the teachings of his old hermit mentor, including a tale of a war between Gallifreyans in the Age of Rassilon and a race of vampires who simply vanished. A standing order remains: If the Vampire King is found, he must be destroyed.
I imagine that the entire “you’re wonderful” moment in the jail cell must have been a bit awkward given the real-life conflict between the two leads.
A member of Kalmar’s rebellion, Tarak, has gained access to the castle and is searching for the Doctor. He frees them, but Romana refuses to leave until she finds Adric. They decide to split up: The Doctor heads for the TARDIS to read up on the Vampire King while Romana searches the inner sanctum. Meanwhile, Ivo approaches Kalmar for help avenging his son’s death, but the rebel is unsure.
The Doctor seems to know Count Dracula. Maybe he’s having flashbacks to the Dracula-bot in The Chase?
Romana finds Adric near the sleeping king and queen, and as she shakes him free of his trance, the royals awaken and kill Tarak. With the guard’s blood now stale and flat (and a seeming inability of Romana and Adric to run away), they ensnare our heroes for a more lively feast. Aukon blocks their joy by taking them as sacrifices for the Time of Arising. He needs their energy to leave E-Space and pillage the universe.
The Doctor moves the TARDIS to Kalmar’s cave and appeals for the insurgent’s help. Kalmar is unswayed until he sees the image of the King Vampire, Aukon’s great Chosen One. After that, he’s all in. The group plans their assault, and the Doctor puts K9 (and his nose laser) in charge of the army. They storm the castle: K9’s army keeps the guards at bay, Ivo confronts Habris for the death of his son, and the Doctor ascends the rocket and launches a scout ship. Meanwhile, Romana is enthralled and prepared for sacrifice, including bats swooping in to bite her. Adric tries to fight for her, but he is stopped and removed from the altar.
The Doctor’s scout ship lifts off, angling for the stars, but as the Vampire King arises from the depths, the rocket changes course and plunges into the creature’s heart and killing it. The Three Who Rule turn on the Doctor, but without the King to sustain them, they rapidly age and crumble to dust. The Doctor ties up loose ends by setting up the Hydrax’s computers for Kalmar’s use while Ivo apologizes to K9 for doubting the robotic dog. The Time Lords depart, continuing their search for a way out of E-Space and promising to take Adric home.
Two additional highlights: First, I loved the Three Wise Monkeys (“see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil”) salute by the villagers. It was a perfect encapsulation of their attitudes toward the mysteries surrounding their very existence. Second, K9 on the throne made me laugh, but I did wonder how he got up there.
The big negative here is Adric. The character is wasted in this story. I mean, in the Romana era of the franchise, K9 has usually taken the short straw with minimal screen time, but the newest companion is nothing but a narrative prop in this tale.
That said, State of Decay landed with a high three rating. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Warriors’ Gate
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.
8 thoughts on “Timestamp #113: State of Decay”
It’s a bit of a weird story with the veteran writer Terrence Dicks writing his first story in years. You see what a different production team makes of a story that would have been just about perfect in Tom’s early run with the gothic horror vibe going through it. I also love how they weave the vampire mythology into Doctor Who.
I’m not sure at what point in the storytelling Dicks was told about Adric. He’ll have a larger role soon, not that it means that you’ll like him more, but this definitely isn’t his best outing. What I did like about him in this is that he seems interested in taking the vampires up on their offer and only turns against them when he sees them hurting his friend. You don’t normally see protagonists willing to take the vampires up on becoming one of them.
This is one of my favourite episodes. The audio tape read by Tom, was listened to by myself dozens of times.
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