This four-part story, starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, was first shown in October/November 1976, and was significant for a couple of reasons.
Tom Baker was having lots of fun being the Doctor, and had the idea that he didn’t really need a companion. The production team decided to create a story where the Doctor would be alone to prove to Tom that he did need someone to spark off, actually, so there, etc. This Cunning Plan went a bit wrong when they accidentally produced a classic.
The other significant thing is that this is the story that establishes most of what we know, or think we know, about the Time Lords. Up until now, they’d been seen as awesomely powerful beings, but Assassin reveals them to be flawed people, somewhat decadent and a wee bit silly. This didn’t go down well with some of the more serious fans of the time – the then leader of the Doctor Who Fan Club didn’t like it one bit, and though that it was all quite wrong, in much the same way that certain vociferous fans these days keep insisting that Russell T Davies has got it all wrong. Some things never change…
Anyway, the story picks up after the Doctor left Sarah Jane on Earth at the end of The Hand of Fear. He’s been summoned back to Gallifrey, for the first time since he was exiled to Earth as a punishment for interfering in other cultures. On the way he gets some kind of vision – he sees the President of the High Council of the Time Lords assassinated. And so he arrives, dodges the guards who try to arrest him, and totally fails to prevent the assassination. And manages to fail in such a way that it looks like he’s the guilty party.
It is, of course, all part of a Cunning Plan on the part of his old adversary, the Master. The Master’s been a naughty Time Lord, and has managed to work through all twelve regenerations that we learn is the limit for Time Lords. And he’s not at all pretty – only his strength of will and his hatred of the Doctor is keeping his horribly decayed body alive. And all he wants to do is to destroy the Doctor and the rest of the Time Lords. Naturally, he has an accomplice who does all the dirty work for him – shooting Presidents, and most significantly, trying to kill the Doctor in the virtual reality of the Matrix. And it was that bit that caused Mary Whitehouse and her so-called “National Viewers and Listeners Association” to get most upset indeed, particularly at a cliffhanger which had the Master’s accomplice holding the Doctor’s head under water. This bit was snipped from subsequent showings, but is restored on the DVD.
Lots of chasing and confusion follows. The Master is, of course, foiled in his evil plot, but gets away at the end. It had been intended for him to become a recurring character again, as he had been in Jon Pertwee’s era, but the incoming production team decided against it. He eventually returned at the end of Tom Baker’s era in The Keeper of Traken.
There’s the usual mix of stuff on offer here – a commentary, the esential production subtitles, photo galleries and the like, plus three documentaries:
- The Matrix Revisited – The usual look back at the making of the story. Tom Baker takes part, and is on great form
- The Gallifreyan Candidate – A look at the Richard Condon novel The Manchurian Candidate, which is regarded by many as an influence on this story. Quite likely, as the creators were always happy to borrow ideas from just about anywhere.
- The Frighten Factor – Assorted people talk about what it is that makes Doctor Who scary
So there you have it. Get your slice of Time Lord fun here.
 That was at the end of the Patrick Troughton era. An interesting DVD release is due later this year
 That would account for the title then
 A little matter that will need to be addressed in the current version before too long…
 The original. Beware of movie imitations
 Delightfully described as a “right-wing pressure group” in the production subtitles.