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Recap / Doctor Who S14 E3 "The Deadly Assassin"

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The Deadly Assassin
Get that triangle off the screen, pronto! What do you think this is, the Illuminati? At this rate, you'll give half the viewers triangle fever, triangle vision, or some other three-sided malady!
Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by David Maloney
Production code: 4P
Air dates: 30 October - 20 November 1976
Number of episodes: 4

"Through the millennia, the Time Lords of Gallifrey led a life of peace and ordered calm, protected against all threats from lesser civilisations by their great power. But this was to change. Suddenly and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history..."
— The Opening Narration, as read by The Doctor

The one that pissed off Mary Whitehouse. note 

Another Robert Holmes classic. This serial is important in that it is the first to take place entirely on Gallifrey. In addition, many details of Time Lord society are revealed for the first time: the 12 regeneration limit, the political system, the chapter houses (Prydonian, Arcalian, etc.), the swanky Time Lord regalia and their giant hats, the Sash and Key of Rassilon, the Eye of Harmony, and the Matrix. The story also introduced the Doctor's mentor Borusa and, perhaps most notably, mentioned Rassilon for the first time. Bernard Horsfall (previously seen as Time Lord who sentenced the Doctor to exile in "The War Games") returns as Chancellor Goth.note  And finally, the Master returns, played by Peter Pratt. Judging from the Master's atrocious complexion, he's seen far better days since the last time he appeared and will, in extended universe audios, appropriately enough become known as "The Crispy Master".

This story is also known for having no companions. Ultimately, this proved the companion's use as The Watson, as it was hard to convey the Doctor's thoughts without someone for him to explain them to. The post-2005 stories with no regular companions tend to have a guest character filling the role temporarily, with the exception of "Heaven Sent", where the Doctor spends the majority of the episode by himself and which can be seen as a Spiritual Successor to this serial.

Summoned to Gallifrey and with no companion at his side, having dropped Sarah Jane Smith off on Earth, the Fourth Doctor gets a surprise Flash Forward when he sees himself assassinating the Lord President. He tries to stop it from happening: he sees someone else aiming to assassinate the Lord President, and picks up a suspiciously-conveniently located gun to shoot the assassin. But the gun's scope has been tampered, so he misses the assassin, the president is shot — and the Doctor is the one seen holding a smoking gun. He is promptly arrested by Chancellor Goth.

However, it becomes apparent that this is a plot by the Master— having been reduced to a skeletal husk during the interim since we last saw him, only kept alive through the power of his burning hatred, his flesh rotting almost literally to the bone and causing him constant agony, he wants to get his hands on the Key and Sash of Rassilon: the Presidential regalia.

The Doctor escapes execution by virtue of Loophole Abuse (to everyone's annoyance) and becomes a Presidential candidate, granting him immunity for a few days. He is able to demonstrate that the sights on the gun he was using were tampered with to a degree that would make it impossible to hit a target, convincing at least a few of the other Time Lords of his innocence. The only other candidate is Chancellor Goth. The Doctor convinces a few sympathetic Time Lords to hook his brain up to the virtual reality of The Matrix (no, not that one - that's 23 years away at this point). The Matrix is a knowledge database, which is made up of the Virtual Ghost brainwaves of dead Time Lords.

Inside the virtual reality of the Matrix, the Doctor fights a hallucinatory masked opponent who hunts him down with trains, planes, hypodermic needles, guns and poison (no automobiles, for those curious). He loses about half his wardrobe in the process, gets all dirty and bloody, and when the mysterious hunter is revealed to be Chancellor Goth, the two end up mud-wrestling in a pond and ripping each other's clothing off, during which the Doctor nearly gets drowned— getting Philip Hinchcliffe kicked off the series in the process thanks to one Mary Whitehouse getting even more pissed off at the show's content than usual. The Doctor, meanwhile, eventually proves victorious, only for the Master to intervene and attempt to fry both the Doctor and Goth within the Matrix. The Doctor survives and is brought back to reality, but Goth is much less fortunate and the Master already has the regalia.

The Master begins opening the legendary Eye of Harmony, the core of a black hole, which was discovered by Rassilon during the foundation of Time Lord society. He's stopped by the Doctor and falls into a fissure. The Doctor is left as the only surviving presidental candidate but no-one actually mentions that and Borusa is quite happy to let him slip away, followed shortly afterwards by the Master, whom the Doctor believes to have died.


  • Absence of Evidence: Spandrell realizes that someone has been tampering with the archives when he notes that the Doctor's file has far too little dust on it given when it was last officially accessed, meaning that someone had accessed it later, and then erased the record of accessing it.
  • Agony Beam: The Doctor is tortured to get him to confess with this.
  • Ambition is Evil: The Master subverts his ally through appealing to his ambition.
  • As You Know: The Time Lords talk a lot about things they all should know, just so the viewers can understand. Amusingly averted when Engin tells Spandrell about the APC Net, because it was on a need-to-know basis and it's only now that he should know about it.
  • Author Avatar: Philip Hinchcliffe suggested that Robert Holmes cast Bernard Horsfall as Goth because the writer saw the actor as a younger, more handsome version of himself.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: The Doctor grabs a gun trying to save the president and sets a trap for Goth using a hand grenade.
  • Battle in the Centre of the Mind: Goth and the Doctor's fight in the Matrix, though portrayed as a physical one, is really a contest of wills.
  • BBC Quarry: The inside of Goth's mind, apparently.
  • Big Bad: The Master is the... erm... mastermind behind the assassination plot, goading Goth into shooting the Lord President under the pretense of a Klingon Promotion and framing the Doctor for the killing, all so he can get to the Sash of Rassilon and gain a new cycle of regenerations.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: This story is much more violent than even prior Philip Hinchcliffe-era serials. The plot revolves around the assassination of a political official, which gets depicted on screen three times (twice in part one and again during the recap in part two), one guard ends up fatally impaled by a large spike, Goth and the Doctor's confrontation in the Matrix features realistic injuries from guns and poison darts, and Goth himself is killed by being graphically fried by the Master, himself reduced to a skinless, lichlike figure.
  • Blow Gun: The Doctor creates a makeshift one in the Matrix using a swamp reed and a tree thorn dipped in leftover poison from Goth's discarded bottle; he manages to incapacitate Goth with a well-aimed shot to the leg, which buys him enough time to lure the guy into a position where he can be more directly confronted.
  • Body Horror: The Master has experienced some initially-undisclosed eventnote  that left him on the planet Terserus, badly burned to the point of almost permanent death. As a result, he has become a rotted walking corpse, in constant agonising pain, living only on willpower and hatred as his body continues to disintegrate.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: The Master could easily have killed both the Doctor and Spandrell, but instead merely stuns them so that they can witness his victory, which is perfectly in-character.
  • Book Ends: This story and "The War Games" bookend the entire period where the Time Lords could interfere with the Doctor's life at will, executing him, exiling him and later sending him off as their errand boy whenever they felt like it. The Doctor even gets a rematch with the Time Lord who exiled him in the first placenote , a man who's done a deal with the Master and become exactly the sort of dangerous renegade he accused the Doctor of being. What's more, said rematch involves scenes from World War I, which played a significant role in "The War Games". From this point on, even when the Doctor does get involved in Gallifreyan politics, he's usually the one dictating terms.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: As usual, the Master makes easy pawns of lesser minds. Goth seems to be working with him of his own volition, but later suggests he too was the victim of mental manipulation.
  • Break the Badass: The Doctor, realising he's going to have to directly confront the assassin, is clearly expecting to die for good. There is a long shot of him staring at his opponent, shaking with determination and fear. This was invokedEnforced Method Acting as Tom Baker cannot swim and is deathly afraid of water, and the scene involved him being drowned...
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: Robert Holmes Revisioned the Time Lords as a darkly comic variant here. As far as they're concerned, they're an omnipotent Ancient Conspiracy, and they do (in theory) have the power to back it up... but in practice all they do is have pompous ceremonies, wear ridiculous costumes, moan about politics and their back problems, and have no interest in doing anything either good or bad to anybody beside internal hierarchicalist backstabbing. Except for their secret police, who are more proactive— and also corrupt, torturing monsters.
  • Chalk Outline: The President. Complete with an outline of his hat.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Master, of course.
    You craaaaaaven-'earted... SPINELESS... Poltroon!
  • Chromosome Casting: The only female character in the serial is the voice of a computer.note 
  • Clothing Damage: Both the Doctor and Goth's clothes get ripped a lot in the Matrix, both due to damage sustained during their game of cat and mouse and due to them occasionally needing to examine their wounds right away.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: The Master does this to the President of Gallifrey, having first lured the Doctor into a position where he can take the fall for the assassination.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Mention is made in Episode 1 of the Doctor being sentenced to exile on Earth, and that exile being subsequently lifted.
    • A retroactive one courtesy of the Expanded Universe. Not only does it confirm that Goth is one of the two Time Lords who tried and exiled the Doctor at the end of "The War Games" (as the two were played by the same actor), but Goth also subjects the Doctor to World War I-themed hallucinations in the Matrix at several points, with that war having been a key point of focus in the earlier serial. These nods back help bookend the Doctor's period of being jerked around as the Time Lords' errand boy, which began and ended with Goth and World War I.
  • Darker and Edgier: The dark echoes of the Kennedy assassination and the Red Scare, the more visceral than usual violence, several shocking cliffhangers, and the fact that Master is now a Hammer Horror monstrosity drew particular ire from Moral Guardians at the time.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • The title is a tautology, as a successful assassin must by definition be deadly. However, varying definitions of whether regeneration constitutes "death" muddles this. According to the text commentary on the DVD, Robert Holmes argued that there are many incompetent or unsuccessful assassins, so they wouldn't necessarily be deadly. It is at least an improvement on the working title of "The Dangerous Assassin", which Holmes felt lacked impact.
    • At one point, the Master derides Goth as a "craven-hearted, spineless poltroon." All three terms in that phrase are synonyms for calling someone a coward.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Time Lord authorities make deductions from the Doctor's history that lead them to believe him far more knowledgeable than he actually is.
  • Elderly Immortal: The Master is near the end of his life, but persists anyway, kept alive purely through The Power of Hate.
  • Empty Elevator: The Doctor does this to fool the guards.
  • Evil Chancellor: Chancellor Goth, who assassinates the Lord President in a bid to take his place.
  • Evil Cripple: Since he can't regenerate, the Master has artificially extended his life and is just kind of... rotting.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Doctor points out the Master's pettiness to him:
    "You would delay an execution to pull the wings off a fly!"
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Peter Pratt was hired as the Master specifically because of his operatic baritone, as Philip Hinchcliffe reasoned that since the Master's facial features would be concealed by a hood for much of the serial, he would need to have an imposing voice. However, Pratt's makeup muffled his voice, resulting in the Master speaking with a notable lisp.
  • Expospeak Gag: Rather than describe the Doctor's change of body by the rather more lofty "regeneration", a news reporter on Gallifrey refers to them as "face lifts".
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: With his decision to put about the story that he died saving Gallifrey from the Master, Borusa tries to make Goth one of these. We're never told if it actually went through or not.
  • Faking the Dead: After his plan to have Goth kill the Doctor fails, the Master injects himself with a neural inhibitor in order to give the impression of being dead. By doing so, he's able to smuggle himself into the morgue without suspicion, and nicks the Sash of Rassilon from the late Lord President's body.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Runcible staggers into the Panopticon, in extreme pain, and drops dead with a great big spike sticking out of his back.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: A big chunk of the story features the Doctor and the assassin chasing each other around a jungle, getting more and more beaten up as they go, with realistic physical effects. The Doctor getting shot, twice. The Doctor staggering around in a White Shirt of Death covered in blood and filth with a broken leg and arm. The Doctor shooting a man with a toxic blowgun that causes his leg to blister up, forcing the victim to perform improvised surgery on it with a knife and needle. The notorious cliffhanger freeze-frame with the Doctor's head being held underwater, making it appear as if he'd drowned. Even Tom Baker had serious misgivings about the sequence, as he has a invokedreal-life phobia of being trapped underwaterinvoked and worried his performance was too genuine and disturbing for children as a result.
  • Forgot About His Powers: After the Master fries his brain with the Matrix, Goth dies rather than regenerating. The other characters who get killed might not have that ability (whether or not all Gallifreyans have the powers of Time Lords very much depends on the writer). Or stasers and the Master's TCE are able to kill someone even if they have regenerative powers. Later stories (particularly in the Revival Series) would establish that Time Lords can indeed be Killed Off for Real partway through a regeneration cycle, be it through a sufficiently lethal injury or simply refusing to regenerate.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: This is the only television story with no companion in tow. This was ultimately deemed undesirable in the long run; in the revival series and expanded universe, there are many stories with no regular companion, but those will usually have a one-off character filling the companion role.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Celestial Intervention Agency.
    "I think he's ruthless and determined; a typical CIA agent."
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: The Doctor says, "I see: the 'hot and cold' technique" after being interrogated.
  • Gothic Horror: A staple of Tom Baker's tenure. Though the plot is The Manchurian Candidate, the atmosphere and visual borrows a lot from The Phantom of the Opera and Hammer Horror.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Lampshaded by Spandrell's criticisms of Commander Hilred for allowing the Doctor to escape:
    Spandrell: Well done, Hilred. An antiquated capsule, for which you get adequate early warning, transducts on the very steps of the Capitol. You are warned that the occupant is a known criminal, therefore you allow him to escape and conceal himself in a building a mere 53 stories high. A clever stratagem, Hildred. You're trying to confuse him, I take it?
  • Hero-Tracking Failure: Multiple times in the Matrix.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Unfortunately, that Omega business was covered up, so the Doctor is known only as a disgraced exile apparently linked to a despised 'dirty tricks' agency.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Goth's pursuit of the Doctor in the Matrix has heavy shades of this.
  • Immortality Immorality: The Master will do anything to gain more life, even if it means destroying Gallifrey and the Time Lords.
  • Improvised Weapon: The Doctor fashions a blowgun out of a bamboo stalk, a thorn, and an almost empty bottle of poison.
  • In the Style of: The DVD's "behind-the-scenes" subtitles reveal that this story is a pastiche of "film-noir detective" stories; Spandrell is the Time Lord version of the "antacid-gobbling" police chief.
  • Ironic Name: The Gallifreyan Panopticon, named after a hypothetical prison model that ran on a theoretically flawless surveillance system, becomes the backdrop of a presidential assassination and constitutional crisis thanks to a lack of adequate surveillance.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: The Fourth Doctor disguises himself as a dressing room assistant to appear invisible while he steals himself a disguise, using only voice pitch and body language as he was dressed only in his underwear at the time. Notably, the two Time Lords who are the focus of the scene don't even seem entirely sure that there was another person there at all.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: In the Matrix, the Doctor gets shot in the leg and arm but he can perfectly use them after he's bandaged them. Same case with Goth, who gets shot in the stomach and doesn't seem to have any trouble with it once he's bandaged. The Matrix is a battle of wills in which apparent injury is only dangerous for its "psychosomatic feedback". When their attention is off the wounds, the Doctor and Goth will suffer less from them (or possibly not even at all, if neither combatant remembers receiving or inflicting them in the given moment).
  • Klingon Promotion: Attempted by Goth, who conspires with the Master to assassinate the Lord President in order to succeed him.
  • Literal Cliffhanger: Episode 2 was intended to end with a cliffhanger of a samurai with Goth's eyes cutting through the Doctor's scarf as he hung from it off a cliff face. However, the episode was underrunning and so a lot of Surreal Horror setpieces intended for Episode 3 got bumped forward to Episode 2, resulting in an eventual cliffhanger of the Doctor trapped with his foot on a train track as the train approaches.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Doctor is accused of killing the President of Gallifrey, the punishment for which is execution to permanent death. However, the president had not named a successor before he was killed, so an election must be held. So to put off his execution long enough to figure out what's really going on, the Doctor invokes Article 17 of the Time Lord Constitution that lets him submit himself as a candidate, because the article is a guarantee of liberty that states no candidate may be barred from presenting his claim (there is a clause prohibiting convicted criminals from being candidates, but since the Doctor's trial is still in progress, he technically isn't a convict yet, and the crimes of his previous regenerations don't count, as he'd already served out his sentence for those), so the Time Lords can't execute him until after the election.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Master is, perhaps miraculously, even more underhanded than usual here.
  • The Master: Is a decaying husk of a Time Lord.
  • Match Cut: After the Doctor is knocked off a cliff by a samurai in the Matrix, the scene switches to Spandrell and Engin on Gallifrey discussing the dangers that the Doctor faces while plugged in. The camera zooms in on the Doctor's closed eye, and immediately cuts to a close-up of his eye opening just after recovering from the cliff fall.
  • Me's a Crowd: While in the Matrix, Goth takes on various generic historical personas (a samurai, a clown, a World War I biplane pilot, etc.) to attack/frighten the Doctor (and the audience). At one point several of him seem to man several positions on a train (or trains) simultaneously to run over the Doctor's leg.
  • Mind Rape: The Fourth Doctor simultaneously commits and is subjected to one when he ends up heading into a Cyberspace based on Goth's mind in order to assassinate him. Obviously he's invading Goth's mind, but Goth is also subjecting him to both psychological and physical (mental) torture.
  • Monster Clown: The Doctor catches a brief (but memorable) glimpse in the Matrix after dusting off a mirror hidden under some sand.
  • Moral Guardians: Another one to incur the wrath of Mary Whitehouse, due to the cliffhanger where the Doctor apparently drowns.
  • Names to Run Away From: Chancellor Goth.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The Master's plan had no need for the Doctor to be involved at all. His sole purpose in the plot was to be The Scapegoat, a job that could have been given to just about anyone other than his patsy Goth. But the Master couldn't resist sticking the Doctor with the blame, so he arranged for his rival to be there, which placed him in a position to stop the plan.
  • Nightmare Face: The Master's new face... ain't pretty. Thanks to him being on the verge of death, he's reduced to a skeletal husk with just a thin membrane of skin atop, revealing the blood vessels underneath.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Panopticon is named after a hypothetical prison model by 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham where any inmate could be freely observed without their knowledge at any time by a single guard in the building's core, motivating good behaviour in the prisoners through invoking Paranoia Fuel. On Gallifrey, the Panopticon is simply the room that hosts parliamentary meetings, presidential ceremonies, and the interface for the Eye of Harmony. invoked
  • Noodle Incident: In his dying moments, Goth states that he found the Master on Tersurus, nearly dead. Exactly how the Master wound up like that isn't explained, resulting in the Expanded Universe giving multiple varying accounts regarding what happened.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Philip Hinchcliffe considered the previous incarnation of the Master a "Comic-opera villain" and wanted something conspicuously scarier and more threatening for his return. Well, it worked...
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The Time Lords in this story are a group of pompous, senile old men who have mostly forgotten how to use their sufficiently advanced technology.
  • The Nth Doctor: Peter Pratt takes over from the late Roger Delgado as the Master for the only time. The exact specifics aren't given, but it's stated that something caused the Master to turn into a corpselike figure on the verge of death (the Expanded Universe would reveal that the Delgado and Pratt incarnations are one and the same).
  • Obvious Rule Patch: In response to the Doctor invoking Article 17 to freeze his trial by declaring his candidacy for the presidency, Goth states that once he is in office, the first item on his to-do list will be to amend Article 17 so that it cannot be used in such a way again.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: When the Doctor falls off a cliff, he's suddenly replaced by a poor-quality dummy. His usually fairly convincing human stunt double is also betrayed by a terrible wig that stays springy when wet compared to Tom Baker's plastered-down real hair in the closeups, and is several shades redder than it.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX:
    • An Action Man doll doubles as a matter-condensed Chancellery Guardsman.
    • The "transduction" effect used on the TARDIS was reused from Swap Shop.
    • The poison Goth pours into the only source of drinking water seems to be green food colouring, still in its original bottle.
  • Off on a Technicality: In a rare heroic case, the Doctor offers himself as a presidential candidate so he cannot be tried before the elections.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Some complaints about the story concerned the episode cliffhanger that freezes on a shot of the Doctor drowning— Mary Whitehouse claimed it was too scary for children who felt that the Doctor was underwater suffering for the whole week. The furore over this got the producer fired and the replacement ordered to go in a Lighter and Softer direction.
  • Oh, Crap!: Upon seeing the technician's shrunken corpse stashed in the telescope, the Doctor instantly recognises it as the work of the Master and turns very grave.
  • Only Known By His Nickname: There are two characters in this episode who knew the Doctor from before he first stole the TARDIS and ran off: Runcible (former classmate) and Borusa (former teacher). Neither addresses him by his given name, whatever it might be.
  • Only One Plausible Suspect: The revelation that the assassin is Goth comes as no real surprise, as there are no other characters it plausibly could have been.
  • Opening Monologue: Not used again until the TV movie.
  • Opening Scroll: The only story in the series to use one.
  • Outfit Decoy: The Doctor stuffs his coat, scarf and hat with pillows and puts it on a chair, and adds a hookah to create the illusion that he's sat in the corner, quietly smoking. Later played with — he puts his coat and scarf on a display that used to show the clothes of the highly important Gold Usher, to indicate to the guards that he's stolen it (which he then immediately swaps with someone else's ordinary orange robes, while the guards apprehend the hapless man dressed in gold).
  • Out of Continues: According to Spandrell and Engin, the Master exhausted all twelve of his regenerations; as such, his next death will be his last. The Doctor catches on to the fact that this is what the Master is trying to avoid, and quickly pieces together why he wanted to get close to the Lord Presidency: to gain more regenerations through the Eye of Harmony.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: This is the only truly companion-free serial (all other storylines in solo travel periods give the Doctor a temporary companion-figure), meaning the Doctor narrates a lot of the action. It's the only story where every single character, including all the people travelling in the TARDIS, is an alien from the planet where the story is set (Gallifrey), which gives it a weird feel as there are no cultural outsiders. It's also a Noir Episode, revolving around the Doctor's attempts at investigating a presidential assassination, with strong influence from the killing of John F. Kennedy and the subsequent Warren Commission.
  • Painting the Medium: The contrasting atmospheres of Gallifrey and the Matrix are emphasized by judicious usage of Video Inside, Film Outside. Gallifrey's reality is all video with smooth motion and bright (some would say rather lurid) colours. The Matrix is all film, including the few studio shots (such as the Miniature Effects with the crocodile), with everything in a drab and muted, grainy colour palette (helped by the cheap and nasty-quality film) with the exception of the Doctor's ridiculously blue eyes. The whole effect is to indicate unrealness to everything in the Matrix except for the Doctor's mind.
  • The Pardon: The traditional practice at the opening of a presidency; the Doctor's trial is rushed so he can be executed before the question of whether to spare a brutal murderer or to ignore tradition arises.
  • Parent Service: The story features no companion for this job and the rest of the cast are either old men or a hissing walking corpse, so an excuse is found to dress the Doctor in an unfastened see-through pirate shirt and tight skinny leggings and get him wet, complete with him tossing back his wet hair and striking a pose. Even official programme guides comment about how dashing and sexy Tom Baker looks in this one. If you prefer a more conventionally handsome look for your men, the serial also delivers Bernard Horsfall in silver lipstick and eyeshadow.
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: As the Doctor points out, if the sash really made you invincible then the Master's assassination plan wouldn't have worked in the first place.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Doctor ends up technically becoming President of Gallifrey (the only other mentioned candidate ends up dead), but he doesn't actually do the job of President for long (or for that matter at all) — he scarpers off in the TARDIS at the first possible opportunity and goes back to wandering the space-time continuum.
  • Platonic Cave: The Matrix, a virtual realm in which reality is dictated by the mental processes of its residents. The Doctor is able to briefly hold off his adversary's creations by willing them away, but is overpowered more often than not.
  • Powered by a Black Hole: The Eye of Harmony is the nucleus of a black hole and provides energy for the whole of Gallifrey. The Master aims to use its power to grant himself a new regenerative cycle.
  • Propaganda Machine: We get to hear the plans — twice — for covering up what happened.
  • Pseudo-Crisis: Twice:
    • The Doctor takes a sniper rifle from a balcony, aims, and shoots the Lord President of Gallifrey dead. It's pure Superdickery, and in the next episode it's revealed he was actually trying to shoot the person who was shooting the President.
    • Goth grabs the Doctor from behind and started to drown him at the end of Episode 3. The next week, the man lost energy for no apparent reason, and the Doctor threw him off with ease.
  • Puff of Logic: The Doctor is briefly able to avoid Goth's traps in the Matrix by denying that they exist. Unfortunately, the projection is so strong that the Doctor can't resist for long and has to fight back on Goth's terms.
  • Random Smoking Scene: The Doctor uses a hookah and a pile of his clothes in a chair as a Decoy Getaway, so as to create the illusion that he's smoking in the corner with his back to the door when the Time Lord guards break into his TARDIS. Since he isn't ever seen smoking on screen, it comes across as a bizarre part of the illusion. He isn't shown actually smoking it, though he pops the end of the pipe into his mouth while he's setting it up. Later in the story, though, he wakes up from beside a machine that's been burned out by saying "do you mind? This is a non-smoking compartment."
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Castellan Spandrell is a highly competent, no-nonsense man who is initially suspicious of the Doctor (and quite understandably so given they found him with a smoking gun in his hands right after the President had been assassinated) but listens to the Doctor's arguments for his innocence and swiftly comes around to becoming his ally in the search for the truth when the Doctor uncovers enough evidence in his favour.
  • Rebellious Spirit: The Doctor spends his entire trial doodling caricatures of his accusers. According to Borusa, he was the most incorrigible student at the academy.
  • Red Scare: The story is noticeably steeped in fears of subversion from within, treachery from trusted public servants, the duplicity of men in power, covert CIA intervention (the Celestial Intervention Agency in this case), and the decay (literally, in the case of the Master) of idealism.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Rather than face the indignity of hearing the judgement during his mockery of a trial, the Doctor puts himself up as a candidate for the Presidency, an act so barking mad that nobody bothers to question why this loon slipped through the net in the first place.
  • Resistance Is Futile: The Master says this verbatim after taking the Doctor, Spandrell, and Engin hostage in Gallifrey's morgue, believing that his victory is now certain with the Sash of Rassilon at hand.
  • Retcon: The rules of regeneration become more firmly established in this serial in a big way: while previous references to the process implied that Time Lords could regenerate an indefinite number of times, to the point where the Second Doctor's forced regeneration at the end of "The War Games" is treated as a nuisance at worst, here the rules change so that Time Lords only get twelve regenerations before they die permanently. At the same time, however, the story also establishes that Time Lords can be given new regenerative cycles, providing a backdoor that would eventually allow the series to continue past thirteen Doctors (and thirteen Masters) when the need arose.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Goth tampering with the records in the Matrix in order to conceal the true perpetrators of the plot leads to the Doctor going in to figure out who altered the records, which lets him know who the real killers are.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Goth's role is reminiscent of the Watergate scandal, being a presidential candidate who conspires to rig the upcoming election, only to be ignobly brought down by his own cover-up.
  • The Scapegoat: The only reason why the Master arranged for the Doctor to be on Gallifrey at all was because he needed somebody to take the fall for killing the President, and he felt like using his rival.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Borusa uses a lot of big words, fitting his haughty attitude and his position as an academy teacher.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Doctor's line about "vaporisation without representation" mocked a similar American slogan about taxation that was popular during The American Revolution.
    • Spandrell's role as the unassuming but sharp-witted and grounded Chief Inspector chasing the hypnotic mastermind recalls Lohmann in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.
    • The biplane that menaces the Doctor is reminiscent of the crop duster from North By Northwest, and the improvised weapons he makes from things found in the forest seems to be nicked from "Arena".
    • The reporter Runcible is named after one of Edward Lear's favourite nonsense words.
  • Signature Headgear: The Time Lord's iconic headpieces debut in this serial.
  • Succession Crisis: The President of Gallifrey is assassinated moments before he performs the final task of his term: naming his successor. This throws the succession into an open election.
  • Take That!: It's rumoured that Holmes used the depiction of the Time Lords as a dig at the ridiculous nature of some of Britain's "Great Institutions", like the House of Lords and the Church of England. Not to mention Public Register Video, which with its stuffy announcer Runcible is all too obviously a takeoff on the BBC.
  • Technicolor Toxin:
    • The Master's poison is green.
    • In the Matrix sequence, the poison Goth pours into the only source of drinking water is green.
  • Those Two Guys: Spandrell and Engin.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: The Master is much nastier than the last time we saw him. Being reduced to a charred walking corpse will do that to you.
  • Torture Porn: The Doctor gets very thoroughly tortured.
  • Translation Convention: Everyone is speaking in Gallifreyan, but due to the viewpoint character being the Doctor and there being no companion, we hear the Time Lords speaking in English, complete with accents for some characters (Spandrell sounds Eastern European to indicate he was born outside the Citadel). Noticeably, at one point the Doctor gives Spandrell a note which is visibly written in Gallifreyan.
  • Unexpected Successor: The Doctor wins the election by default because of Goth's death, though he leaves before the votes are actually tallied.
  • Unperson: Goth removed all records of the Master's existence from the Matrix.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Goth formed an alliance with the Master and killed the Lord President because the Master promised to make him the new Lord President through a hefty dose of skullduggery. However, when Goth is unable to kill the Doctor in the Matrix, the Master offs him and takes matters into his own hands, at which point Goth realizes that the Master was simply using him as a tool in his real plan: gaining a new cycle of regenerations by hijacking the Eye of Harmony.
  • Virtual-Reality Warper: When Doctor plugs himself into the Matrix, he's instantly plunged into a virtual reality simulation in which the assassin attacks him through a variety of methods: biplanes strafing him from above, a Deadly Doctor trying to drain his blood, a Monster Clown looming from a mirror, a samurai tossing him down a cliff, and a train trying to run him over. However, the Doctor is eventually able to lure the assassin into attacking him face to face on a level playing field, allowing him to both unmask him and get the upper hand.
  • Water Source Tampering: Goth pours a vial of poison into the only visible source of drinking water while battling the Doctor in the Matrix. The Doctor circumvents it entirely by digging up a pool of groundwater before using the poison in a blow dart against Goth.
  • Wham Episode: This was the first story to completely take place on Gallifrey, and as such established much of the backstory regarding the culture that would inform stories for decades to come, including the revelation that Time Lords (in theory) may only regenerate 12 times. The Doctor is companion-less for the first time in the series, accused of a crime he didn't commit. It also featured the return of the Master (the character had previously been retired due to Roger Delgado's death) and the revelation that yes, the Time Lords were absolutely capable of political scheming and skullduggery.
  • Wham Shot: The sight of a cameraman's shrunken-down corpse in Part Two immediately establishes the return of the Master, who at the time of the serial's airing hadn't been seen since "Frontier in Space" in 1973 and was generally thought to have been retired from the series following Roger Delgado's death.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The story owes no small debt to The Manchurian Candidate, and the DVD release has a featurette specifically about this.
  • Who Shot JFK?: The assassination of the president (note the use of the American executive title rather than "prime minister," as one might expect from a BBC show) has obvious and intentional resonance with the Kennedy murder.
  • Writer on Board: The script contains some pretty vicious commentary on the British political system, the British public school system, and the Catholic Church. There's also an unflattering reference to Harold Wilson's resignation honours list and the Doctor espousing anti-politics views.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Time runs more quickly in the Matrix. The Doctor's adventures take up a part and a half; to the Time Lords watching, it takes about four minutes.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: The plot to kill the President goes exactly as planned. The Master's plans to take advantage of the disruption in the presidential succession caused by the assassination do not thanks to the Doctor.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The Gallifreyan Matrix works like this, as death in the virtual reality overloads the person's mind.


Video Example(s):


Censored drowning cliffhanger

Part Three of 'The Deadly Assassin' was censored after complaints from Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. As the master tape itself was edited, this affected all future airings until the Home Video release, where it was reconstructed from a lower quality source.

This comparison comes from the DVD's 'Making-of' documentary.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / EditedForSyndication

Media sources: