Classic Series Doctor Who Top 50

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories: 49 – Logopolis

“A chain of circumstances that fragments the law that holds the universe together.”

tom and adric logopolis

The Twelfth Doctor, we’re told, is moody, rude, aggressive, offhand. Think so? Consider Logopolis. The Fourth Doctor of this story is sulky, obsessive, offhand, distracted. He’s like a Dad in a loft, shed or cellar in search of something to do, fighting middle-age with all the enthusiasm of a sloth. He shouts at his companions, he makes a joke to Tegan about her dead Aunt and then consoles here with an absent-minded pat on the back. The Season 18 Doctor might just be a genuine madman in a box: certainly he’s he’s dangerous but there’s no sense of fun or the faux-childish sulking his other incarnations indulge in. He broods and glums around the place, his only humour is cruel. Put simply, Peter Capaldi has nothing on Series 18 Tom Baker.

Of course, by this point the end of Tom and start of the Doctor is increasingly blurred. And Tom is no longer infectious, fun – a crazy, impossible uncle with a smile on his face, sweets in his pocket, secrets. He’s the scary relative who smells of stale booze, glowers in sullen silence and might suddenly bark at you to shut up if you bother him.

And just as The Doctor perceives the end approaching, so does Tom. We know that many Doctors found the end of their tenure wounding – Tom’s dismay is there on screen for all to see. It’s the most remarkable coming together of art and real life: both of our heroes sadly playing out their last moves and contemplating the end of life as they’ve known it.

Tom Baker Logopolis

Tom looks ancient in Logopolis, illness and years of hard living finally catching up with him. His cheeks are sunken, he stoops and his hair has lost it curl: it’s Samsonian, a metaphor for a man whose incredible powers seem to have deserted him. He is shrouded, wreathed, swaddled in that enormous burgundy coat that speaks not of a buccaneer, eccentric or bohemian but an elderly wizard. It serves to accentuate how thin he is, rather than adding to his imposing stature, like Casanova living out the last of his years in a freezing, lonely exile in Bohemia – banished from Venice and salad days. When Tom takes over from Pertwee he’s a young man; by the end he’s lying underneath the Pharos telescope he looks tired, defeated.

Tom, The Doctor, has seemed out of sorts all season, shedding the two companions that continued to root the show in silliness and whimsy and gaining an annoying manchild, who he appears to detest. Gone are the welcoming honks and flourishes of Dudley Simpson; instead the cold, metallic bleeps and stings of the Radiophonic Workshop. In Logopolis the incidental music feels funereal, doom-laden. It’s overcast all the time in the story, as if even the elements are coming out in sympathy. Most of the outdoor scenes are clearly lit artificially as the crew are losing the light. Whatever John Nathan-Turner’s faults, he ensures everything is pointing in the same direction in Season 18: the season of entropy, decay and death.

the watcher logopolis

There’s something else though, beyond Tom’s misery. The Fourth Doctor is withdrawn, sullen and paranoid – suddenly detouring into odd flights of fancy. He wants to measure the TARDIS all of a sudden, something that has never bothered him before, and to do this he has to stop off at the Watford Gap and measure an actual police box? What?

As for his plan to ‘flush out’ The Master by materialising the TARDIS underwater: had the Doctor’s plan of landing at the bottom of the Thames and opening the doors not been foiled by landing on a barge, the force of the water would immediately have crushed he and Adric to death.

If they survived the torrent of billions of gallons of water then they would undoubtedly have drowned or died from hypothermia. This also assumes that the Master couldn’t simply have closed a bulkhead or got into his own TARDIS. It also assumes that opening a trans-dimensional craft underwater wouldn’t have simply drained the Thames.

Does the Fourth Doctor choose to die?

It suggests nothing less than the Doctor actually losing his mind in Logopolis; driven to his wits’ end by foreknowledge of his impending death. He sees – and recognises – The Watcher early on and carries the knowledge that death is literally stalking him throughout the rest of the story. Not only that, it’s suggested that the Watcher tells the Doctor to go to Logopolis, knowing he has the Master aboard the TARDIS. Does the Doctor simply accept that this is how it is? No free will. just playing out the moves until another Doctor comes along. His fall from the Pharos project telescope very much begs the question as whether the Doctor falls or chooses to let go. Does the Fourth Doctor choose to die?

The Watcher. As a youngster I was scared beyond all reckoning by mysterious, silent and notionally evil beings in everyday situations. The Tall Thin Man from The Boy In Space and The Watcher haunted my dreams as a child – in Logopolis we’re given every reason to believe he’s The Master. But in many ways he’s more frightening – death in physical form. Where the Tenth Doctor moans about another man with a different appearance walking away afterwards, the Fourth has to spend Logopolis coming face-to-face with that man; the man who will take away everything that he has become: erase him; replace him.

While The Doctor is coming to the end of his life in Logopolis, The Master is reborn. The story is our first meaningful introduction to The Master, inhabiting his new body. And while Anthony Ainley is dressed to resemble Roger Delgado, this is a very different sort of Master.

Whereas the Timelord we know from the Pertwee era gives the impression that he enjoys mischief, or besting the Doctor, the Ainley incarnation revels in evil. His gentle laugh, ringing throughout the Cloister Room, is a thing of wonder. His make-up hints that there’s something physically wrong with him. “You look so cold,” says Nyssa, mistaking him for her father and noting his alabaster skin.

the master ainley

Already there’s a sense that there’s something unstable – both physically and mentally – about this new Master. It’s not long before the Doctor realises that, far from the gentleman criminal he has come to know, this Master is completely insane – and he’s genuinely horrified. His sometime friend and nemesis has actually lost his mind.

Not to be reasoned with or indulged, no deals to be done, the Ainley Master is genuinely unhinged. In Logopolis – and for much of the next ten years – the Master is a genuine psychopath that is intent on killing the Doctor, rather than defeating him intellectually. If the Doctor is depressed in Logopolis, the Master is maniacal. Both characters are a far cry from their familar, more comforting aspects.

In Logopolis the Master attempts to hold the universe to ransom by threatening it with total destruction – and allows a few galaxies to collapse just to get the universe’s attention. The end of the universe; the saving of the universe – you have to hand it to Bidmead. His vision of a Doctor Who where mathematician monks hold the universe together by incanting code is as high-concept as television science-fiction gets. As entropy increases in the universe – a closed system – the Logopolitans open up conduits to other universes. And in the meantime they chant; a life-support system for the universe. It’s extraordinary, elegiac metaphysical nonsense.

logopolitans tiny tardis

However, Logopolis struggles to show us why we should care, offering up only a tantalising shot of a city that looks like a brain, and some matte shots of many Logopolitans at their workstations, providing Tegan with her only notable line of the entire story.

Where Bidmead get it so very right, however, is in the demonstration of recursion, as the Doctor and Adric enter one TARDIS after another – Grimwade showing darker, more threatening iteration of the capsule after another with some wonderful lighting and angles. Suddenly the TARDIS is alien and frightening – a great way of undermining another familiar icon and turning it against the viewers.

Despite Season 18’s reputation, Logopolis is not totally without humour: The sideways glance between Adric and The Doctor as Tegan dashes into the console room and some of the banter between the Timelord and his Alzarian companion, not to mention his rejoinder to the air hostess’ query as to whether he’s met Auntie Vanessa: “Well, a little of her…”.

In retrospect we can look at it – and much of Season 18 – and view it simply as very odd, inept in various ways and depressingly po-faced. We can mourn for the fun and gentle whimsy – or the grand guignol horror – of past seasons; Tom in his heyday. But in the context of 1981, Logopolis must have been fairly extraordinary. Simply compare it to City of Death, barely a year earlier. Has there ever been anything like it on television since, especially at 5.30pm on a Saturday night?

janet fielding tegan logopolis

Admittedly it makes little sense – as if the Logopolitans’ incantations are holding the story together by a thread. I’ve probably watched Tom’s swansong 20 times and I couldn’t explain why there’s a perfect recreation of the Pharos Project on Logopolis, why the Doctor needs to measure a police box, how CVEs work – or why it’s so important for Tegan to get to Heathrow.

Ah, Tegan. Barely a word that comes out of the Aussie air hostess’ lips is not directly connected to air travel. When she arrives on the TARDIS she is scarcely surprised and somehow rationalising that she’s on an aeroplane. Janet Fielding is pretty heroic spouting some of the worst dialogue you’ll hear in Doctor Who, but Tegan here is a wholly unlovable and pointless character. Nyssa, meanwhile, is a companion created – wholly illogically – to smooth the transition from one Doctor to the next. On that basis we might as well have had Consul Katura. The effect on Tom seems deleterious and the promo shot of his standing with Sutton and Fielding, both wearing huge smiles while he looks bewildered and disheveled, a man out of time, is sad to see.

tom and companions

At the end of it we’ve got a chaotic jumble of recurring characters, the end of the universe, an iconic villain in a new body; a big swerve as the identity of a mysterious character; a bypass on an A-road, sums, the Thames; a shrunken Doctor, an old Doctor, a new Doctor. It’s an incoherent season – and incarnation’s – finale that’s baffling and illogical: in lots of ways, Logopolis has a huge amount in common with the end-of-season spectaculars of later years.

The strong after-image, though, is of Tom Baker and the Fourth Doctor. Arguably the series never quite recovered from the defenestration of its most successful leading man – and it seemed to finish Tom as an actor, remaining perpetually solemn and lugubrious in virtually any television role over the next 20 years. Both parties were diminished in the aftermath but Doctor Who went on to Longleat, the Death Zone, Radio Times front pages and plenty of column inches.

logopolis its the end

Following Logopolis Tom withdrew from the series, and seemingly from public life, eschewing the opportunity of reprising the role for almost 30 years, barring a 60-second interlude for charitable purposes. He dispensed, forever, with the hair that was his trademark; the look that ensured he was beloved of children and parents, gone with the role that opened doors both professionally and personally. Logopolis is the end of all of it for him – and he looks shattered by the experience. Perhaps more than any other incarnation – or any other actor – this is a Doctor that truly didn’t want to go.