THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "MAWDRYN
'THE BLACK GUARDIAN
TRILOGY' DVD BOX
RELEASED IN AUGUST
STILL UNDER THE MALIGN
INFLUENCE OF THE BLACK
SABOTAGES THE TARDIS,
PLACING THE DOCTOR
AND HIS COMPANIONS IN
GRAVE DANGER. NYSSA
INTERFACE WITH A
NEARBY SPACE LINER,
AND THE DOCTOR BEGINS
A DESPERATE SEARCH
FOR HER ABOARD THE
WHEN THE LINER DOCKS
AT TERMINUS, A SPACE
STATION AT THE EXACT
CENTRE OF THE
UNIVERSE, THE HORRIFIC
TRUTH STARTS TO
EMERGE. IT MAY
ALREADY BE TOO LATE
TO SAVE NYSSA'S LIFE,
AND THE EXISTENCE OF
THE ENTIRE COSMOS IS
NOW IN PERIL...
15th february 1983 - 23rd february 1983
Can you really polish a turd? This would certainly have been the question on my mind were I charged with bringing Terminus to DVD. Supposedly the meat in Season 20’s Black Guardian sandwich, Nyssa’s parting adventure is amongst my least favourite Doctor Who stories. All that it seems to do is whip Nyssa’s skirt off, shackle her up for a bit, and then write her out of the series. Now I know what you’re thinking - sounds good so far. Well…
Terminus has drawn comparatively little comment over the years. Serials like Timelash, for example, have long since been the butt of every other joke, but Terminus is so bad that it isn’t even that noteworthy; it’s just four long, gruelling episodes of misery and boredom.
All the same, as was the case with Warriors’ Gate a couple of years beforehand, Steve Gallagher’s “thematically ambitious” story is positively dripping with intelligent ideas and enduring imagery. Whilst hard-line science fiction really isn’t really my bag, I can at least appreciate what Gallagher was trying to with his script. Having the Turlough-sabotaged TARDIS become fused with Terminus marked a cracking start to the serial, for instance, though admittedly I was far from impressed with the wanton and distinctly lacklustre explanation for the creation of… well, creation.
Primarily though, Gallagher’s story is a very human one, examining Lazars’ disease (a deliberately patent allegory for leprosy) and the wrongs associated with failing to treat the same as well as isolating and stigmatising its suffers. On transmission, of course, medical associations accused Gallagher of “giving leprosy a bad name” (which as Peter Davison points out in the commentary, was a feat in itself) but in truth I’m surprised that he didn’t
have the Church on his case - the scene where the Lazars’ arms are reaching out through the cracks in the walls and the floor is torn straight out of the New Testament!
Nevertheless, Terminus is poorly paced and appallingly realised, and the only thing that managed to hold my attention throughout was Mark Strickson’s mesmerising performance as the duplicitous Turlough. It’s an absolute delight to watch as he verbally spars with Janet Fielding’s stroppy Tegan, his conscience gradually beginning to gnaw away at him.
And to be fair, the ‘peck on the cheek’ ending is surprisingly emotive, as is Tegan’s parting shot - “she’ll die here!” – but these small scenes do not really go any real way towards making up for the serial’s massive shortcomings.
Above: The cast and crew discuss the troubled making of "Terminus" in the "Breaking Point" documentary
As one would expect, the DVD’s bonus material focuses heavily on the serial’s beleaguered production. The flagship documentary, Breaking Point, details the many obstacles strewn in
Terminus’ path and in particular Mary Ridge’s struggle to even get the story in the can. With the amount of things that went wrong during production, I suppose it comes as little surprise that the finished product is as uninspiring as it is (and by extension, that the ‘making of’ documentary is so riveting!)
Another feature that impresses is the Origins of the Universe featurette. Cast of the same mould as E-Space – Fact or Fiction?, this six-minute cosmological quandary features the likes of Sir Patrick Moore and (the very animated) Doctor John Mason outlining contemporary creation theories. The feature is absolutely enthralling from start to finish; truly mind-blowing stuff.
The pick of the bonus material though is, without doubt, the commentary. Generally I find that a DVD’s ‘making of’ feature and commentary cover much the same ground (the latter often with far less reverence!), however in this case the commentary is a real revelation. Peter Davison, Mark Strickson and Sarah Sutton are of course as engaging as ever, but it is Stephen Gallagher that steals the show – the man is absolutely fascinating. Undoubtedly cursed when it comes to having his Doctor Who scripts realised, but fascinating nonethe-less. Whether he is ruminating on the influence of Norse mythology on Terminus; the final production’s resemblance to Hector’s House; or even the workings of US television production, the man is a veritable fountain of information.
The remainder of the bonus material is standard fare for the most part – continuities and storyboards; that sort of thing. Notably though, as is the case with both the Mawdryn Undead and Enlightenment DVDs, a number of the original special effects shots can now be cast
off in favour of slick (but apposite) CG effects. These may not help the Garm to look any more credible, but they do help to drag the serial up just that little bit.
And so it seems that, when subjected to the Restoration Team’s tender treatment, even the cheapest and most unfortunate of stories can form the basis of a half-decent DVD. Some would argue that the more troubled a story is, then the more ‘ammo’ there is for bonus material, but the fact that this release managed to get me to sit through all four episodes of Terminus again (albeit with the extraordinary commentary and sharp production subtitles both turned on) is something of a minor miracle.
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