This review is for DOCTOR WHO: STATE OF DECAY, the 113th Doctor Who story aired.
It’s an interesting episode, in that it has excellence right beside dreck, and walks a very interesting tightrope.
We’ll start with the dreck. This story has some significant problems, among them less than stellar or convincing performances by two of the actors playing the vampires. They just play it too camp.
Another acting problem is Waterhouse as Adric; he just exudes annoying brat, even more than most kid actors, you can tell he is irritating everyone around him, actors and viewers both. The producer’s decision to cast him as a companion was a sizeable mistake for season 18, a component in the poor ratings, and became an additional incentive for Tom Baker’s departure.
Add to those failings, not exactly impressive direction and relatively shoddy effects (that fall far short of such an ambitious story) and you have a conflicted episode of Doctor Who.
But all these negatives accepted, the episode has some notable positives, the onscreen chemistry between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, which was variable, really was pretty fantastic in this episide. And I think that’s because the script lent them some beautiful, and witty exchanges, and they were very good with each other.
And Baker who often blows everyone else off the screen, sometimes even himself, gave a subdued, giving, almost understated performance, that allowed for Lalla to shine with him. Terrence Dicks really wrote them as a team, as equals, which is not something that often happened in Doctor Who (And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it needs to happen routinely, the show is called Doctor Who. But it worked very well in this case).
The two, Baker and Lalla, have never done a commentary together, but I think this would be the episode to do it on, they work that well together in this story.
Of course the story is the thing, and Terrance Dicks cobbles together an amazing script, that unfortunately the director, effects, some of the casting, and the budget… could not really capitalize on.
One of my favorite lines, is this inspired bit of writing:
Aukon: The guards must hold the tower to the last man.
Head Guard: My lord. We’re outnumbered. Unless you aid us we shall all be killed.
Aukon: (Comes down close into the kneeling guard’s face) Then… die. That is the purpose of guards. Go.
Wickedly cold blooded and brilliant. And well delivered by Emrys James, playing the lead vampire. He does a textured performance, as opposed to the other two, who just come off as camp.
So if you can forgive the failings, the strengths of this episode are worth a viewing. The story is strong enough that I would love to see it recast (though much of the charm of it is Lalla and Tom in those particular parts, in that particular time) and redone with today’s effects. I think it would shine.
Weighing the pros and cons, overall grade: C+.