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Doctor Who: The Awakening (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Awakening originally aired in 1984.

The Awakening was the third and final of Peter Davison’s smaller two-part adventures, taken once in each of his three seasons in the title role. Much like Black Orchid and The King’s Demons, it feels like a light and refreshing breather, especially in a final season that was becoming gradually darker and more somber. While Black Orchid allowed the cast and crew to take a somewhat relaxing break before the tragedy of Earthshock, The Awakening feels conspicuously grimmer, but still seems a relatively casual affair when measured against the stories that were to follow.

Malus aforethought…

In fairness to this two-parter, it does boast a rather nifty concept, with the idea of “a confusion in time” somehow linking seventeenth century England with 1984. Confining the action to two half-hour episodes concedes that there’s not really too much that can be done with the premise, but it’s an endearing sort of modesty. We’ve seen much slighter premises expanded to fill four-part episodes, so it’s nice to see a story that is just the right length for its material.

The King’s Demons revealed that we can forgive even a fairly flawed and banal little adventure if it’s told with brevity. I’d argue that one of the reasons Jon Pertwee is so underrated is because even a good story suffers if it runs to six episodes. You need something really fascinating to justify that, and it’s not easy to come by (that said, there are any number of well-paced Doctor Who episodes running to and beyond six episodes). Still, I think The Awakening has a far more interesting central premise than either The King’s Demons or Black Orchid, even if the latter perhaps benefits more from the BBC’s stylish period design.

A grave matter…

That said, The Awakening looks good. Even today, the location footage looks pretty nice. It’s very clearly footage from the BBC in the eighties, but it’s about as good as one could expect footage from that era to look. Apparently the serial was shot across three different villages, and they all look absolutely sublime – to say nothing of the rather wonderful visual thrill of seeing troops on horseback marching through a quaint little village with its telephone polls and red phone booths. Much like the length of the story, the production seems relatively restrained – and I’d argue it’s the better for it. The show struggled to create convincing and emersive alien worlds on a shoestring budget, but the crew really got a chance to shine when they were allowed to work with more common surroundings.

With that in mind, I should concede that I adore the Malus. I’m a sucker for that type of old-school animatronic pratical special effect. Yes, the monster looks like something from a theme park, but there’s something impressive about the creature sticking its head through that church wall (or even scampering inside the TARDIS). I like the concept of the creature, and I think that the serial is wise not to have it communicate directly with the cast. I know that actors like Graham Woolf can give these cosmic horrors a wonderful depth, but there’s something absolutely fascinating about a foe that doesn’t even have the concept of verbal communication. It just seems so much more horrifying, as if it operates on an entirely different plain of existence. The Malus doesn’t make threats or demands – it causes murder and anger and hatred.

Creepy crawly…

“living history” “a confusion in time” “just twentieth century troopers playing a particularly nasty game.”

“How else could you visit your grandfather?”

“there will be no visitors to the village. it’s been isolated from the outside world.”

fun. guards on horseback and a quaint red telephone booth and phone lines

davison seems to be in the perfect story. “given the energy, it would not only destroy him, but everything else. cheer up.”

even then, it ends in a decapitation, the threat of burning tegan alive and with green slime oozing from teh creature’s mouth.

mallus “but that’s a representation of the devil!”

poltergeist (which is actually suggested) – wind “more psychic disturbance”

“do you know anything about psychic energy?” “you know I don’t.”

One Response

  1. I’m quite sure that the Malus gave plenty of children numerous nightmares back in the day by reaffirming their fears of the possibility of monsters in the closet and now perhaps within the walls. >;-)

    *on a side note with the story The Eleventh Hour, I immediately thought of the Malus when I saw the crack in the wall. Sadly I knew this time the reason for the crack in the wall was going to be completely different, but one can imagine “what if?”. 😀

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