‘The Deadly Assassin’ (TV)



Please feel free to comment on my review.

The Doctor vs. the Master on Gallifrey

The Doctor returns to Gallifrey!

This has got to be one of the most highly acclaimed ‘Doctor Who’ stories from the Phillip Hinchcliffe years of Tom Baker’s era! ‘The Deadly Assassin’ is a classic four-part story re-introducing the Time Lords of Gallifrey. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s a landmark story in the show’s history.

The Doctor has been summoned to his home planet of Gallifrey where he receives an unfriendly welcome. The Doctor witnesses the assassination of the Time Lord President, which he is wrongly accused of. To prove his innocence, the Doctor has venture into the Matrix to find the true assassin.

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Before this story, Tom Baker’s Doctor had been travelling with Sarah Jane Smith (played by the lovely Elisabeth Sladen). Sarah Jane had left the series in the previous story ‘The Hand of Fear’. Tom Baker was convinced that he could do the series by himself and that he could talk to himself in the TARDIS.

But producer Phillip Hinchcliffe convinced Tom that he needed a companion. But he agreed to have Tom do a single story as the Doctor without a companion accompanying him. This is a unique story for its time in 1976, as ‘The Deadly Assassin’ is the first story to feature the Doctor companion-less.

We see how the Doctor copes alone and deals with the charge he faces of assassinating the President. Tom copes remarkably well in his magnificent performance as the Doctor. But it’s clear why the Doctor needs a companion since he needs to be restrained when committing violent acts.

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This ‘Doctor Who’ story is by Robert Holmes, the current script editor of the series at the time in 1976. Holmes was asked to deliver a conspiracy-theory style of story by producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. What he delivers is a remarkable re-introduction of the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords of Gallifrey!

I liked Holmes’ depiction of the Time Lords in this story. It may not have agreed with the fans who were watching this story. But it’s now a depiction fixed in the minds of everybody today. The image of Time Lords from this story is resonant in stories like ‘The End of Time’ and ‘The Day of the Doctor’.

The Time Lords are no longer the god-like beings that were seen in ‘The War Games’ and ‘The Three Doctors’. These Time Lords are a complete contrast, as they’re ‘merely old men with big collars, arguing’, well described by Paul Cornell in ‘Circular Time: Spring’ (from my favourite Big Finish audio).


The Time Lords are corrupt and power-hungry when they deal with matters of state. They imprison themselves within Gallifrey on their policies of non-intervention. I can see why the Doctor ran away from the Time Lords in the first place, as their lives must be so boring and strict to go by on Gallifrey.

They are many firsts regarding the Time Lords in this story. There’s the first mention of Rassilon (the founder of Time Lords society); his seal; the Panoptican; the Capitol of Gallifrey; the Matrix and the Eye of Harmony. There’s also the Time Lords in their iconic collars and robes for the first time.

I don’t know how the actors playing the Time Lords managed to cope with those cumbersome costumes as they look uncomfortable. They look grand and impressive as it’s an image of the Time Lords that’s recognisable today, especially in the new series when they returned in ‘The End of Time’.

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Tom Baker (as I said before) is magnificent as the Doctor. I liked it when the Doctor dresses up as a cardinal, donning that Time Lord garb and collar, during the Presidential ceremony. Tom’s Doctor works out what’s going on. I feared for his life when he was facing some dangers inside the Matrix.

The guest cast are equally impressive in this. There’s Bernard Horsfall as Chancellor Goth. Bernard has appeared in ‘Doctor Who’ before. He once played a Time Lord in ‘The War Games’. Could it be the same Time Lord in this? Goth is a bitter man who is one of the candidates in the Presidential election on Gallifrey.

The Master returns to ‘Doctor Who’. He is now played by Peter Pratt. Robert Holmes decided to reintroduce the Master, following the original Master actor Roger Delgado. Holmes brings in a new interpretation of the character. The Master is now a decaying corpse and he looks so ghastly in this.

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I liked Pratt’s menacing voice as the Master, although I wasn’t convinced by the skull-like mask he wore despite it looking scary. I liked it when Geoffrey Beevers played the Master in ‘The Keeper of Traken’ and he got to use his own face with decaying make-up on as well as wearing the grey cloak.

The guest cast also includes Angus MacKay as Cardinal Borusa; Erik Chitty (who I’ve seen from ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘Please Sir!’) as Co-Ordinator Engin; George Pravada as Castellan Sprandrell, a Time Lord who has a Czechoslovakian accent; and Hugh Walters as Runcible, a TV news reporter on Gallifrey.

The Matrix in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ predates ‘The Matrix’ movies (although I haven’t seen those films yet). I found the Matrix sequences pretty strange and eerie. It certainly puts the Doctor in peril and shows us images of frightening horror as he tries to find the ‘deadly assassin’ and avoids perils on the way.


I don’t fully understand what goes on in the Matrix scenes as it’s a nightmarish world for the Doctor to be in. The image of the clown in the sand laughing at the Doctor is pretty scary. The ‘Part Two’ cliff-hanger where the Doctor was about to be run over by three trains was also gripping to watch.

This story did receive a lot of criticism upon its initial transmission in 1976. It was criticised by the fans who objected to the portrayal of the Time Lords in this story, since some preferred them to be god-like in previous stories. It’s interesting that fans of today accept the Time Lords as they are now.

The story was also criticised by Mary Whitehouse who objected to ‘Doctor Who’ a lot and was upset by the ‘Part Three’ cliff-hanger with the Doctor drowning in the water. She did have a point as it does looks inappropriate for a family audience and wouldn’t be shown today for a Saturday TV audience.


The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a making-of documentary called ‘The Matrix Revisited’ with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews including Tom Baker and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. There are two featurettes including ‘The Gallifrey Candidate’ and ‘The Frighten Factor’.

There is also a ‘Radio Times Billings’ PDF; a commentary with Tom Baker, Bernard Horsfall and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe; an info-text commentary option; a photo gallery and a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ with Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford. There’s also an Easter Egg to look for on this DVD.


‘The Deadly Assassin’ is a true classic! It was heavily criticised at the time on its initial transmission in 1976, but it’s fondly remembered nowadays. I found this an exciting story with Tom Baker’s Doctor facing the Master on Gallifrey and interesting for reintroducing the Time Lords in concept and image.

‘The Deadly Assassin’ rating – 9/10

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2 thoughts on “‘The Deadly Assassin’ (TV)

  1. Awesome detailed review of this Fourth Doctor classic Tim, this story wasn’t held in high regard on original transmission i think because it took risks but it has since become a cult classic.

    Robert Holmes is my favourite Doctor Who writer & this story delivers a dark twisted surreal adventure, the scenes set in the matrix are some of my all time favourite moments of Doctor Who (the clowns face in the sand still terrifys me).

    You captured this story brilliantly in your review Tim & i loved reading your thoughts on this classic story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Timelord Simon. Glad you enjoyed my DVD review on ‘The Deadly Assassin’.

    Interesting that this wasn’t held in high regard back in 1976 at the time. It is an interesting story that took risks, but I’m glad it’s become a cult classic and it’s embedded in our minds about what the Time Lords were like and how they are today.

    Yes, Robert Holmes is good on writing the dark; surreal and suspense adventures in his time as script editor and his stories are always engaging to watch. The Matrix scenes were terrifying for me, especially when the Doctor’s being hunted down and when he gets drowned in Episode Three, which upset Mary Whitehouse for such. Yes, the clown in the sand was terrifying, wasn’t it?

    Glad you found I captured the story well in my review. I’m pleased you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this story.


    Tim. 🙂


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