I’ve watched this one once before, years ago, and all I could remember was there was a lot of violence and some stunning cliffhangers. And that it was very good indeed. I was not disappointed.
It’s a very, very special serial, for many reasons. In one fell swoop, almost everything we know about Gallifrey and the Time Lords is introduced all at once, and it’s a vision that has endured ever since. I feel like from this point on, I’m now seeing the “finished” version of Doctor Who – every single recognisable element has been introduced, all the wrinkles have long since been ironed out, and there’s still an infinite amount of possibilities to explore.
Even without the heavy levels of mythology, The Deadly Assassin is truly unique in its own right. The unusual scrolling text opening is the perfect lead-in to the shocking and frightening assassination premonition. This sets the tone for a headfuck of an opening episode, with the pomp and circumstance of the Time Lords’ ceremony adding even more dissonance to the Doctor’s trippy mental anguish, leading up to the pure shock of him (seemingly) actually assassinating the President.
And it doesn’t let up. The Matrix sequences are even more batshit, with some incredibly inventive and impressive direction. It’s properly dream-like, with each scene fading into the next, recurring imagery and of course relentless peril. These are simply some of the best scenes in the show’s history – brilliantly directed, expertly choreographed, and the writing is a stream of pure, unadulterated imagination.
Bringing The Master back was another stroke of genius – the perfect person to be at the centre of all this chaos. It did feel a little weird to have not witnessed the events that turned Roger Delgado’s incarnation into this… thing, which causes a bit of a disconnect early on. But by the end of the fourth episode, when The Doctor and The Master have had their suitably epic showdown, there’s no denying that the same brilliant bastard of a character is back.
I think it may have been my favourite serial so far. There are a lot of contenders for that particular title, but this one is right up there. It reminded me in many ways of a much more recent adventure – a companionless Doctor, fighting aspects of his imagination in a dreamscape designed by the Time Lords. Heaven Sent is also one of my favourite episodes of all time, and this is just as incredible.