The Deadly Assassin was the third story of season 14 of Doctor Who. It was the only televised story in the original run of Doctor Who to feature the Doctor without a companion. Tom Baker had told Philip Hinchcliffe he could hold the show on his own. With this story already in place, it was seen as a pilot for such companion-less stories. However, it was deemed that a companion was a necessary feature of the show.
This serial saw the return of the Doctor's nemesis, the Master, but in a heavily decayed state played by Peter Pratt. Roger Delgado had died in an automobile accident three years earlier, requiring a new actor to take his place. Afterward, the Master became subject to a change in appearance and other changes as needed when an actor replaced the role, much like the Doctor.
Narratively, this serial introduced several aspects of Time Lord society which were used or referenced again, including the Matrix, Time Lord Chapters, Time Lord headdress and robes, and of course Rassilon. It also introduced the restriction of a Time Lord to a finite limit of twelve regenerations, allowing a maximum of thirteen incarnations, after which the Time Lord would suffer permanent death.
Later stories revealed that there are exceptions to the rule, such as the Doctor, who was granted a new regeneration cycle when his final incarnation reached the point of death, (TV: The Time of the Doctor) and the Master, who, after exhausting his original cycle, stealing a non-Gallifreyan body (TV:The Keeper of Traken) and being executed by the Daleks, (TV: Doctor Who) was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War, gaining a new cycle in the process. (TV: Utopia, The Sound of Drums)
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...
Having dropped former companion Sarah Jane Smith back home, the Fourth Doctor heads to Gallifrey in answer to the Time Lords' summons. On the way, he is struck by a premonition in which he seems to assassinate the Time Lord President from a gallery overlooking the Panopticon.
The TARDIS lands in the security area of the Citadel. Commander Hilred immediately impounds it and orders the arrest of its owner. The Doctor leaves a note on the console warning of his premonition and sneaks out of the TARDIS into the Citadel. He is cornered by a guard, who is shot dead by an unknown assailant.
The arrival of an unregistered TARDIS in a high-security area raises the tension of an already tense day — the President is resigning and is about to name his successor. The Castellan Spandrell berates Hildred for his incompetence in letting the Doctor, a renegade who apparently is also a murderer, run loose in the capitol.
Hildred transducts the TARDIS into the capitol, unaware the Doctor has sneaked back and hidden himself on board. Meanwhile, his movements are being monitored by a dark, robed figure and an unknown associate.
The Doctor infiltrates the resignation announcement by stealing a Time Lord's ceremonial robes. While trying to remain incognito in the crowded floor, he encounters an old classmate, Runcible, now a newscaster, preparing his broadcast from the Panopticon floor. Runcible greets him coolly while waiting for a signal from a camera operator in the gallery. The Doctor looks up and is horrified to see a staser rifle fixed to the railing near the unattended camera. He causes a commotion as he charges through the room.
As the President enters and stands at the dais, the Doctor grabs the staser rifle. He aims and fires. The President falls down dead...
The Doctor is quickly apprehended by security. The assassination has thrown Gallifrey into a constitutional crisis because the President had yet to name his successor. Chancellor Goth, thought to have been the most likely successor, calls for prompt elections and opts to stand as a candidate. Goth also urges the Doctor's swift trial and execution.
At the trial, Goth's prosecution moves swiftly. The Doctor, however, invokes Article 17 of the Gallifreyan Constitution, naming himself as a candidate for President. Under it, he cannot be denied the right to make his claim. Goth is outraged, but Chancellor Borusa (the Doctor's former teacher at the Academy) acknowledges that the article gives him protection. He is grudgingly given forty-eight hours to prove his innocence.
The robed figure is told by his associate of the Doctor's use of the constitutional loophole. He has anticipated this. The figure is shown as a horribly disfigured and decaying husk.
The Doctor attempts to convince Spandrell and Coordinator Engin of his innocence; his shot was intended for the actual assassin, who stood in the crowd on the Panopticon floor. Someone is going to great lengths to frame him. He notes that the sights had been fixed on the rifle to intentionally throw off his aim. Spandrell confirms this by aiming at a target himself. He begins to believe the Doctor. They find the Doctor's original blast mark on the wall. The Doctor realises the gallery camera would have recorded the actual assassin. Runcible screams with horror when he looks into the camera barrel.
Running to the gallery, they find the camera barrel empty except for the miniaturised corpse of the cameraman. The Doctor recognises this as the work of his arch enemy, the Master, and reasons that he has returned to Gallifrey for a final showdown. Runcible goes to fetch the recordings, but when he returns, he falls with a knife protruding from his back.
Spandrell and Engin cannot comprehend why there is no bio data extract for the Master in the APC Net (aka the Matrix). This is a network of past and present Time Lord minds that acts as an enormous database and future forecaster. The Doctor decides there must be an unauthorised second access point into the Matrix. The Master used this to forecast the assassination into his mind and then wipe all trace from the Matrix. He reasons that either the Master or the assassin working with him must be inside the Matrix. Despite the stern warning from Engin, he interfaces with the Matrix to find him.
The Doctor finds himself in a vast, rapidly shifting terrain, the domain of the assassin. The two engage in a pitched battle of wills. The assassin has the definite advantage of having created the virtual reality world inside the Matrix.
The Doctor prepares for impact, but nothing happens. He gets his foot out and moves on. The Doctor evades the many pitfalls laid for him inside the Matrix. These include being strafed by a biplane and tracked by the assassin. His physical body (still in the APC room) is enduring a terrible and potentially lethal strain. Meanwhile, the assassin is finding the battle of wills extremely taxing as well. The Master increases the power, despite the assassin's plea it will kill him. The Doctor begins to turn the tables on his assailant, first by booby trapping the hunter's equipment, then by avoiding the water poisoned by the assassin. He improvises a blowpipe and shoots a poisoned dart at the assassin, but he is wounded himself.
As the Doctor comes closer to winning the conflict, the Master sends one of the chancellor's guards now under his power to the APC room to kill the Doctor. Engin spots the guard, Solis, tampering with the controls. Spandrell shoots Solis to protect the Doctor.
In the Matrix, the Doctor gains the upper hand against the assassin, who reveals himself as Goth. The Doctor tricks Goth into firing his rifle while in a cloud of swamp gas. As the world around them erupts in chaos and flames, Goth seizes the Doctor and holds his head under water, about to drown him.
The Doctor throws him off and escapes from the Matrix. He revives in Spandrell's office. He informs the shocked Castellan of the assassin's identity. They trace the location of their lair, where they find the Master's lifeless body — he seems to have died of natural causes. Goth, himself near death, admits he was power-hungry and bitter on learning he wasn't to be the President's successor. He had found the dying Master on planet Tersurus, his body at the end of his regeneration cycle, and brought him to Gallifrey to help him fulfil his scheme. Goth dies before he can reveal just what the Master's plan was.
Cleared of all charges, the Doctor still has lingering doubts. He wants to know the Master's plan. He doubts the Master would accept death so easily. He reasons that the solution lies in the ceremonial relics given to the President on induction, the Sash and Rod of Rassilon, and researches their links to ancient Gallifreyan mythology.
The Doctor's suspicions are confirmed. The Master has faked his own death. He steals the Sash and Rod, which are the keys to the Eye of Harmony, the heart of a black hole captured by ancient Time Lord Rassilon. It is the source of Time Lord power. The Master seeks the power of the Eye to restart his regeneration cycle, even though Gallifrey would be destroyed by doing so. He uses the Rod to unlock the Eye of Harmony, hidden below the Panopticon floor. This begins to release its energy, which would be channelled through the Sash to rejuvenate him.
The Doctor wrestles with him. The ground shakes around them. Before the Master can uncouple the last cable from the Eye, the Doctor pulls him away, and he falls through a fissure in the floor. The Doctor reconnects the cables, bringing the crisis to an end.
Borusa is appalled at the damage; half the capitol city lies in ruins and countless lives are lost. Even so, he accepts Engin's claim that the Doctor's actions prevented further catastrophe. Recalling their old relationship as teacher and student, Borusa gives the Doctor a grade of 9 out of 10. The Doctor departs in the TARDIS. Afterwards, Spandrell discovers that the Master has survived and escaped in his own TARDIS, disguised as a grandfather clock. He expresses confidence that the Doctor and the Master will cross paths again. Before the Master's TARDIS dematerialises, the face of the grandfather clock is replaced by that of the Master...
- Doctor Who - Tom Baker
- The President - Llewellyn Rees
- Chancellor Goth - Bernard Horsfall
- Castellan Spandrell - George Pravda
- Cardinal Borusa - Angus MacKay
- The Master - Peter Pratt
- Commentator Runcible - Hugh Walters
- Co-Ordinator Engin - Erik Chitty
- Commander Hilred - Derek Seaton
- Gold Usher - Maurice Quick
- Time Lords - John Dawson, Michael Bilton
- Solis - Peter Mayock
- Voice - Helen Blatch
- Assistant Floor Manager - Linda Graeme
- Costumes - James Acheson, Joan Ellacott
- Designer - Roger Murray-Leach
- Fight Arranger - Terry Walsh
- Film Cameraman - Fred Hamilton
- Film Editor - Ian McKendrick
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Make-Up - Jean Williams
- Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
- Production Assistant - Nicholas John
- Production Unit Manager - Chris D'Oyly-John
- Script Editor - Robert Holmes
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Brian Clemett
- Studio Sound - Clive Gifford
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - Len Hutton, Peter Day
- The Book of the Old Time is mentioned.
- According to Coordinator Engin, the Doctor "must have a phenomenal amount of Artron energy".
- The term Mutter's Spiral is used by the Time Lords.
- Shobogans are hooligans on Gallifrey.
- Applied excitonics is the science used to create the excitonic circuitry the biodata bank of the Time Lords is made of.
- Prydonians, the "notoriously devious" sect to whom the Doctor belongs, are colour-coded scarlet and orange.
- Arcalians wear green.
- Patrexes wear heliotrope.
- The Doctor arrives on Presidential Resignation Day.
- The Doctor's trial is dated 309906.
- Runcible appears to use the term "face-lift" as slang for "regeneration".
- Accused of the assassination of the Lord President, the Doctor faces the possibility of being sentenced to death in a vaporisation chamber.
- According to Engin, precognition is impossible.
- References are made to Old Times.
- Security in the Capitol is a duty of the Chancellery Guard.
- The Celestial Intervention Agency (aka "CIA") are mentioned.
- Borusa has recently become a Cardinal.
- Borusa was a teacher to the First Doctor at the Time Lord Academy. In that age, according to the Doctor, he had stated that truth can be found only in mathematics.
- The Doctor's TARDIS is a type 40 protected by a "double curtain trimonic barrier" which requires a cypher indent key.
- Roger Murray-Leach reused his symbol from Revenge of the Cybermen as the Seal of Rassilon.
- Mary Whitehouse complained particularly about the end of part three, with the Doctor being apparently drowned, so much so the BBC edited the master 625 line PAL colour videotape for the repeat screening of the story the following year. (The episode was preserved unedited, albeit in lower quality, in international copies.)
- The story had a working title of The Dangerous Assassin.
- The title is generally considered a tautology — an assassin is, by definition, deadly. This redundancy was parodied in the spoof The Curse of Fatal Death. However, Robert Holmes denied that the title was tautological, saying, "There are plenty of incompetent assassins." (INFO: The Deadly Assassin)
- This is the first TV story to feature the Doctor without a companion and the only one during the 1963-89 original series. The 1996 telefilm and revival series featured the Doctor on occasion collaborating with "one-off" companions (such as Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride) and in Midnight, the Doctor has an adventure by himself, away from his companion. All that said, The Deadly Assassin remains unique as the only televised Doctor Who adventure to date in which the Doctor appears but there is no companion or companion-surrogate at all. The episode Heaven Sent also features an entire story with only the Doctor and no companions, but the actress Jenna Coleman appears in the episode as part of the Doctor's mind manifestation.
- This story features an exclusively male cast, except for the female computer voice provided by Helen Blatch.
- Helen Blatch (Voice) is uncredited on-screen for part one, but is credited in Radio Times.
- This is the first story set entirely on Gallifrey.
- This is the only story where every character is of the same race (Gallifreyan) and is the first televised story in which no human characters appear.
- This story featured the first use of narration, performed by Tom Baker at the beginning of part one:
- 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...
- This text was also shown as a roller caption, superimposed over the Cloisters set.
- The biplane used in the Matrix sequences in episode three is a 1949 Stampe SV.4C. The plane used in filming, registration G-AWXZ, was also used in the films Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Mummy. (INFO: The Deadly Assassin)
- The Doctor is without companions at the end of the story, making the period between this story and the next one of the few plausible spots during the show's run which allows for placement of any number of additional Doctor Who stories in literature, audio, or comics. This allows the inclusion of companions that are exclusive to these adventures. A similar instance occurred between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation, that one allowing for the inclusion of later developments such as K-9.
- Artistic elements introduced in this story, particularly the Time Lord collars and the Seal of Rassilon, appear on multiple later occasions in stories featuring Time Lords.
- This story establishes that Time Lords do sometimes use proper names on their homeworld (previous uses have either been aliases, or of ambiguous origin such as Morbius; rank-and-file Time Lords seen in television stories like The War Games and The Three Doctors had gone unnamed).
- This story introduces the iconic character Rassilon, who would be referenced often. Rassilon would be seen via a form of projection in The Five Doctors and in person in The End of Time and Hell Bent. It also greatly expands on the Time Lord society and mythology hinted at in The Three Doctors and only briefly glimpsed in The War Games. This story introduces the characters of Borusa and the Castellan, recurring roles in later Gallifreyan stories. This story also establishes Gallifreyan civilization, including the first mention of the Time Lord Academy, the Prydonians, the titles of Chancellor/President, and other aspects of Time Lord culture and hierarchy .
- The novels Last of the Gaderene and Legacy of the Daleks explain how the Master became how he appears. However, in terms of televised adventures, there is no indication whether or not the Master seen here is necessarily the same incarnation of the Master as last seen portrayed by Roger Delgado in Frontier in Space. The 2017 Doctor Who Magazine comic strip story COMIC: Doorway to Hell follows on from this by depicting the Delgado version of the Master regenerating into a new form.
- Part three's cliffhanger of the Doctor being drowned quickly became infamous for its terrifying nature, which caught the attention of media watchdog Mary Whitehouse and led to her lambasting the show. Because of intense negative reactions from the public, Philip Hinchcliffe was replaced as producer the following season and the BBC wiped the offending cliffhanger from the master 625 line PAL colour videotape; consequently, all home releases and reruns simply use in part three the reprise seen at the beginning of part four.
- Part of the disturbing nature of the drowning scene at the end of part three came from the fact that Tom Baker suffers from aquaphobia and thus was experiencing a real fear of drowning during filming. Baker was reportedly so worried of the cliffhanger scaring children that he visited a random family to watch part three with them and hear their responses.
- Part one - 11.8 million viewers
- Part two - 12.1 million viewers
- Part three - 13.0 million viewers
- Part four - 11.8 million viewers
- This is the only story to reference the fact that Time Lords get twelve regenerations for a total of thirteen lives. Early interviews with the production team behind the 2005 revival (including David Tennant in Doctor Who Magazine #415) had made it appear as if the allocation of thirteen lives in this story is a piece of minutia unique to this story. In fact, the thirteen life limit has been a major plot element of at least three other stories, all of which involve villains attempting to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations: The Keeper of Traken, Mawdryn Undead and the 1996 TV movie. All of these stories referenced the thirteenth life limit in dialogue. Other Time Lords have been encountered since The Deadly Assassin in later stories who have reached their thirteenth and final incarnation, namely Azmael and Salyavin.
- In The Time of the Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor acknowledged this limit as well, and revealed that he was actually in his final incarnation, due to the Tenth Doctor using two and not counting his war incarnation. He was able to regenerate again at the end of this story only due to being granted a new cycle of regenerations by the Time Lords. The ability of the Time Lords to do this was revealed in TV: The Five Doctors, when it is offered to the Master; in TV: The Sound of Drums, it is confirmed that a new cycle was bestowed upon the Master during the Last Great Time War.
- Betchworth Quarry, Pebblehill Road, Betchworth, Surrey
- Wycombe Air Park, Clay Lane, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
- Royal Alexander and Albert School, Rocky Lane, Merstham, Surrey
- BBC Television Centre (TC3 and TC8), Shepherd's Bush, London
- The guard the Master kills in part one is seen again alive and well again in part two.
- The corpse of the technician is clearly seen to be a Palitoy Action Man figure.
- Near the end of part four, when the Master chases the Doctor up the Panopticon stairway, the Sash of Rassilon is over his shoulder. Before he puts it back down his front you can clearly see the brown cardboard backing.
- After Hilred unlocks one of the TARDIS doors, the second guard to go through bumps into the other door.
- The Doctor returns to Gallifrey due to a summons he received, prompting him to return Sarah Jane Smith home. (TV: The Hand of Fear)
- In his next on-screen encounter with the Doctor, the Master is ultimately able to secure a new body on Traken, which he uses for some time. (TV: The Keeper of Traken onwards)
- Later, the Master agrees to do the bidding of the High Council when they offer him a new cycle of regenerations. (TV: The Five Doctors)
- He again takes over another non-Time Lord body temporarily after he is executed by the Daleks, in which he unsuccessfully attempts to use the Eye of Harmony to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations. (TV: Doctor Who)
- During the Time War, he is eventually resurrected and given additional regenerations. (TV: Utopia, The Sound of Drums)
- Goth's brother Rath appears in PROSE: Blood Harvest.
- Engin reappears in PROSE: The Eight Doctors.
- Time Lords are allotted twelve regenerations (for a total of thirteen lives). (TV: The Keeper of Traken, Mawdryn Undead, The Twin Dilemma, The Trial of a Time Lord, Doctor Who, The Time of the Doctor) The Doctor himself encounters this issue in his eleventh incarnation before the Time Lords grant him a new cycle.
- The Master again uses matter condensation to kill. (TV: Terror of the Autons)
- The Doctor states that Time Lords are telepathic. (TV: The Sensorites et al.)
- Omega was said to have used the creation of a black hole to give the Time Lords the power of time travel. (TV: The Three Doctors)
Home video and audio releases
- The DVD was released on 11 May 2009 in the UK.
Special Features include:
- Commentary by Tom Baker, Bernard Horsfall and Philip Hinchcliffe
- The Matrix Revisited — Cast, crew and critics look back at the making of this story, featuring director David Maloney, designer Roger Murray-Leach and the founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, Mary Whitehouse
- The Gallifreyan Candidate — A look at Richard Condon's novel The Manchurian Candidate, a major influence on the plot of The Deadly Assassin
- The Frighten Factor — What exactly is Doctor Who's "Frighten Factor"? A diverse panel of experts try to answer the question.
- Radio Times Billings — Listings for this story presented in a PDF file [DVD-ROM – PC/Mac]
- Photo Gallery
- Coming Soon Trailer
- Production Information Subtitles
- Easter Egg - Original BBC teaser for the serial. To access this hidden feature, press left at 'Photo Gallery' on the Special Features menu.
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
- It was released as issue 52 of The Deadly Assassin.
- It was released in episodic format in the UK in October 1991. It was also re-released and digitally remastered for the W H Smith exclusive The Time Lord Collection in 2002, with a better quality freeze frame cliffhanger for part three.
- This story was released in the US in March 1989 in edited omnibus format, two years before the UK release in episodic format. The US release was issued in a printed cardboard slipcase as opposed to a plastic video case.
- The story is available for streaming in the US through Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video in the UK.
- It is available on the Best of Tom Baker bundle on iTunes, alongside Genesis of the Daleks, The Hand of Fear and The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
- The Deadly Assassin at the BBC's official site
- The Deadly Assassin at BroaDWcast
- The Deadly Assassin at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Deadly Assassin at The Locations Guide