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Recap / Doctor Who S18 E4 "State of Decay"

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State of Decay
Vampire astronauts. No joke.
Written by Terrance Dicks
Directed by Peter Moffatt
Production code: 5P
Air dates: 22 November - 13 December 1980
Number of episodes: 4

The Doctor: Do you know, it just occurs to me. There are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet.
Romana: Really?
The Doctor: Yes. Creatures that stalk in the night and feast on the blood of the living. Creatures that fear sunlight and running water and certain herbs. Creatures that are so strong they can only be killed by beheading, or a stake through the heart.

The one where the Doctor stabs someone with a rocket.

The TARDIS (still in E-Space) lands on a planet that seems to be inhabited only by a single small village full of peasants and a castle occupied by three sinister rulers. This turns out to be because the planet's inhabitants come from a crashed spaceship from Earth; the castle is built from the remains of the spaceship. The captain and his executive officers became the rulers, and the peasants are descended from everybody else.

That's not the interesting bit, though: the interesting bit is that the Three Who Rule are vampires. And they're working to revive their master, a Giant Vampire who fought (and nearly defeated) the Time Lords themselves aeons ago.

The Doctor must answer the question: Just how do you deal with a Giant Vampire? A bit of wood with a point at one end really isn't going to do the job. A giant pointy castle tower, however, will.

Terrance Dicks had originally proposed this story several years earlier, for the slot that ended up going to "Horror of Fang Rock"; it was turned down at the time because the BBC was about to air Count Dracula (1977), and they didn't want anybody to think Doctor Who was taking the mickey; it was repurposed for this season due to a lack of other usable scripts.


  • Alien Blood: The Doctor's blood is blue, though in all other stories before and since it's been red. The shot was supposed to be replaced, but time ran out and the shot remains in. However, the close-up of the wound was cut and you have to look fairly hard at the long shot to see it.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The Three Who Rule.
  • The Artefact: Doctor Who Magazine suggested that Karl was supposed to fill the role Adric plays in the finished piece, given how dramatic a scene it is for what is later revealed to be the exit for a character Killed Offscreen. And then Adric gets a nigh identical scene in part 2, with the hand-wave of “So soon? It’s against all custom”.
  • Big Bad: The Great Vampire is the Sealed Evil in a Can whose release the Doctor is trying to prevent. Councillor Aukon, a member of the Three Who Rule in psychic contact with the Great Vampire, serves as the Dragon-in-Chief plotting his return.
  • Bloodsucking Bats: Aukon commands a swarm of them.
  • Bond One-Liner: After the Three Who Rule crumble to dust, the Doctor answers a rebel's question about their fates by quipping that the trio "went to pieces."
  • Character Check: After several serials of the Doctor's characterisation being unusually dark, grumpy and Chessmasterly, this story returns him to the witty and capricious mode he'd been in for the previous three seasons — but the story itself is written with all the characteristic tropes of his first three seasons, being a Gothic Horror Pastiche about weakened ancient godlike beings attempting to regain power. In essence, this is The Last Dance for the Fourth Doctor of yesteryear that children had grown up watching, that of an eccentric bohemian taking in new sights and fighting the greatest of evils, before his regular macabre Season 18 persona returned for his last three stories.
  • Classical Movie Vampire: The Doctor meets vampires who play the stereotype straight, though a more medieval version (fitting the setting) and without the accents.
  • Continuity Nod: The Doctor tells Romana about the legend of the Great Vampires by describing it as something he used to hear from a hermit who lived on a mountain near his house, the same hermit described in "The Time Monster".
  • Contrived Coincidence: At the end of the Vampire War, Rassilon ordered that a record of the war be stashed in all timecraft of certain models so that people would be aware of the Great Vampires and how to fight them should the one un-accounted for member of their race turn up again. The last timecraft of that era still in active service is the Doctor's TARDIS.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Great One being Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by the Doctor, causing the Three Who Rule to wither away and die.
  • Distressed Dude: Adric is captured to be made a vampire.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Great Vampires, who fought the early Time Lords in the war that made the entire species get sick of violence, are gargantuan winged creatures who feast on planets, and can only be killed by having their heart destroyed. But they are so massive that the Time Lords had to invent a new type of ship specifically for hunting them. The only way the Doctor managed to best the one he encountered was by stabbing it with a rocket ship.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Tower of the Three Who Rule. This being Doctor Who, the Tower is really a crashed, defunct spaceship.
  • Exposition of Immortality: Photos of the Three Who Rule are found by the Doctor in the databanks of the rebel's computer, confirming his suspicions that there's something not quite right and that they've been around for millenia.
  • Fake Defector: After spending a couple episodes under mind control, Adric pretends to side with the Three Who Rule so he can safely wait for an opening to save Romana. This plan does not work, but at least he apologizes.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The vampires wear rather dark versions of this, and later stick Adric and Romana in some, too.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Both averted and played straight — one of the guards recognises that the man claiming to be a guard is, in fact, a known deserter. But the other doesn't... and falls for "the old prisoner trick". He is, however, smart enough to realise something's up when the "guard" can't work the locking mechanism and the "prisoner" has to do it for him.
  • Immortal Ruler: The Three Who Rule are the captain and his Executive Officers from a ship that crash landed on the planet long ago. The peasants have gone through many generations but the Three are still the same people, because they're vampires.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The Doctor stabs the Giant Vampire through the heart with a rocketship.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: In the early days of the war between the Time Lords and the Great Vampires, the Time Lords did very badly because the vampires absorbed the power of their energy weapons. Then Rassilon got the idea of using projectile weapons to pierce their hearts.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Aukon uses his powers to force the Doctor to kneel.
  • Language Drift: Alluded to in how the names of The Three Who Rule came to sound like they do now.
  • Lesbian Vampire: Camilla (the name's a giveaway) seems very interested in Romana.
  • Looks Like Cesare: The Three.
  • Meaningful Echo: That delightful Ship Tease moment between our two Time Lords.
    "Psst. You're wonderful."
    "I suppose I am. I never really thought about it, really."
  • Medieval Stasis: Enforced by the Three Who Rule.
  • The Necrocracy: The planet was ruled over by evil vampires, and the rulers had been dining on the mortal population for so long that it was down to a single small village.
  • No Immortal Inertia: Aukon, Camilla and Zargo rapidly age into skeletons and dust when the Great Vampire is destroyed.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: During the first scene in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Romana are discussing what to do next, and K9 attempts to offer some pertinent information. The Doctor tells him "not now" three times before allowing him to continue, then immediately asks why he didn't tell them sooner.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: "And certain 'erbs". Tom Baker slips out of his BBC English accent for a second and his Scouse accent comes through.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Three Who Rule are pretty standard Hammer Horror vampires, but the gigantic ur-Vampire certainly qualifies as Different.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Twice. That's Earth craftsmanship for you...
  • La Résistance: Against the Three's Rule.
  • Resistance Is Futile: Marta says this is the villagers' lot in life, ruled by the Three.
  • Shaped Like Itself: One peasant says "The Wasting is... The Wasting." (Unfortunately, that's about all we ever learn about it.)
  • Shout-Out:
    • The "Making Of" featurette on the DVD is titled "The Vampire Lovers." In the interviews, various crewmembers point out that the style of the story is a lot closer to Hammer Horror than it is to Dracula.
    • The Doctor quotes Henry V to inspire the rebels:
      Lack of weapons. No experience. Odds almost insurmountable. But! He who outlives this day and comes safe home shall stand a-tiptoe when this day is named and rouse him at the name of E-space!
  • Stock Poses: The peasants give a complex salute to their lords, covering their ears, eyes and mouths. This is a reference to the Three Wise Monkeys, "See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil."
  • Supernatural Elite: The Three Who Rule are vampires, feeding off the peasants whom they rule.
  • Super-Strength: Zargo demonstrates this when he lifts a grown man off the ground with one arm.
  • Take a Third Option:
    Aukon: You will all serve the Great One, Doctor, one way or another. If you do not join us you will feed him with your blood.
    Doctor: No. There is a third choice.
    Aukon: What is that?
    Doctor: I can destroy the Great One.
  • Title Drop: "Yes, I've never seen such a state of decay."
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The Doctor persuades the peasants to attack the castle of their tyrannical rulers (actually a spaceship embedded in the ground) with a rousing speech that's paraphrased from the St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V. A mob scene with torches and pitchforks ensues.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Romana poses as Tarak's prisoner to allow them to sneak into the tower to rescue Adric.
  • Überwald: The unnamed planet is essentially Überwald as a Planet of Hats, though justified since there's only one settlement on it.
  • Vampire Episode: Doctor Who fans wait seventeen years, and then four come along at once.
  • Vampire Monarch: The head vampire is an Eldritch Abomination. Once the Doctor stakes it with a rocket ship, the other (human) vampires crumble to dust.
  • We Have Reserves: Aukon's attitude to his guards.
    Aukon: The guards must hold the tower to the last man.
    Guard: We are outnumbered. Unless you aid us we shall all be killed!
    Aukon: Then die. That is the purpose of guards.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The topic of "The Wasting" comes up several times during the first episode as something the peasants dread and will not discuss. It seems significant, but once episode one ends, it's never mentioned again. This is apparently a hangover from a much earlier draft of the script. Reportedly, it was meant to refer to the process whereby the vampires drained the blood of selected peasants but this is never explained in the final version.
  • When Props Attack: When the Doctor is attacked by the bat, its flight is achieved by pulling it away from Tom Baker on a string and reversing the film, but the actual attack is Baker holding the prop to his throat and struggling.