Part one of the Black Guardian Trilogy, Mawdryn Undead introduces Mark Strickson as Vislor Turlough, as well as featuring the Black Guardian’s return, as well as Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. As part of the twentieth anniversary season, there were many nostalgic elements in the story, which are executed as a checklist. This is a bit of a problem, as the story isn’t just about those things, and instead they’re overlayed onto the story already in motion, which is far more interesting than the mythology happening around it.
The narrative itself isn’t unsophisticated, but is quite short. The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan Jovanka investigate a teleport port making trips between Earth and another ship. One that ship is Mawdryn, from a species exiled on a prison ship for stealing the power of regeneration from the Time Lords, and mutating perpetually. The Doctor makes the decision to give them his remaining regenerations to euthanize them, but the day is saved by Lethbridge-Stewart. Of course, he was only there because Season 20 was about revisiting periods of the show’s history, and was a replacement for Ian Chesterton. So rather than it being Chesterton teaching at the boys’ school, it’s Lethbridge-Stewart, who’s retired. And then within the school is Vislor Turlough, who’s also an exile, but from a different planet. And he gets a way to escape when approached by the Black Guardian, who offers him a passage home if he kills the Doctor, who’s with Nyssa and Jovanka, investigating Mawdryn, who’s committed a crime against the Time Lords, and the Doctor’s regenerations are the solution, but then Lethbridge-Stewart arrives at the eleventh hour.
The plot… isn’t incomprehensible, but it’s very complex. There’s an overlap of so much mythology, from so many eras of the show, that there isn’t really an original story. Everything happening is reliant of the existence of pre-established plot, and if those things weren’t there, there’d be nothing new. And there’s nothing wrong with revisiting what worked in the past, but normally there’s something original to catalyse everything. As usual, there’s an abundance of technobabble. Which also isn’t normally a problem, but it takes-up so much dialogue that it may as well be a completely different language. And that’s when the dialogue itself isn’t stiff:
Lethbridge-Stewart: I’ve seen regeneration two times now.
Jovanka: well so have we.
Nyssa: who was that?
Jovanka: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of course.
Mawdryn Undead is a cluster of elements that aren’t held together by anything new other than the introduction of a new character, who’s even then brought into events by a returning villain. And it’s not as if it’s unwatchable, because it is. Mawdryn pretending to be a regenerated Doctor is a very original idea, but isn’t dramatic because at no point do we feel these characters are in anyway real because of their corny dialogue. So anything that isn’t continuity cannibalism is a bit bland in itself. Not bad at all, but just not very good. Which is a shame, since Strickson is a massively underrated actor.
Mawdryn Undead: watchable recycling of old elements 5/10.