Serial 4P:
The Deadly Assassin


The President of the High Council of the Time Lords is assassinated, and the Doctor, newly returned to Gallifrey, is the prime suspect. But the Doctor knows someone is framing him, and must rely on the help of the reluctant Castellan Kelner to unveil a traitor in the High Council. Ultimately, the trail leads to the dying, vengeful Master, who wishes to harness the powers of Rassilon's greatest discovery, the mythical Eye of Harmony. But to do so would mean the destruction of Gallifrey, and to prevent this, the Doctor must risk his life in the surreal landscape of the Matrix.


With Elisabeth Sladen scheduled to leave Doctor Who two serials into Season Fourteen, the thoughts of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes turned to the creation of a new companion. Neither had a clear vision of what this character should be like, however, and they also had to contend with Tom Baker's desire that the Doctor not be accompanied by other regular characters at all. Baker thought that the Doctor should journey alone, talking to himself to advance and explain the plot, rather than to a companion. Hinchcliffe and Holmes finally acquiesced to Baker's lobbying and agreed not to introduce a permanent companion immediately after Sarah's departure in The Hand Of Fear. They felt that, if nothing else, writers could invent surrogate “companions” to assist the Doctor for a single adventure at a time.

It was agreed that the first of these solo-Doctor serials would be authored by Holmes himself. Although the BBC usually discouraged script editors from writing for their own programme, Holmes had received special permission to do so for Doctor Who, following his last-minute emergency rewrite of Pyramids Of Mars the year before. Hinchcliffe suggested a storyline in the vein of political conspiracy thrillers such as the paranoiac 1962 Frank Sinatra film The Manchurian Candidate, in which the Doctor would be framed as part of a sinister cover-up. Holmes decided that such an adventure could best take place within the context of Time Lord society, something that had been explored only superficially in Doctor Who to date.

Instead of the suave, silky Time Lord played by Roger Delgado, the new Master would be a desperate, skeletal creature

The Gallifreyan setting suggested to Hinchcliffe and Holmes that a suitable villain for the piece would be the Doctor's Time Lord archnemesis, the Master. The character had not been utilised since Frontier In Space in Season Ten. Although plans had been mooted for a final adventure the next year which would have killed the character off in a “blaze of glory”, actor Roger Delgado was killed in a car crash before it could be made, and the character had since lain dormant. By now, however, both Hinchcliffe and Holmes were contemplating leaving Doctor Who at the end of the season. Both felt that they had done as much with the show as they could, and were developing a more adult science-fiction programme called Lituvin 40 as their potential next assignment. As such, they decided to reintroduce the Master in a transitional state, so that the next production team would not be saddled with a version of the character that they might not like. Instead of the suave, silky Time Lord played by Delgado, the new Master would be a desperate, skeletal creature barely clinging to life.

Holmes was working on Serial 4P -- initially called “The Dangerous Assassin” and then The Deadly Assassin -- by April 1976, although he was formally commissioned on May 27th. Since the story was partly inspired by the conspiracy theories which had abounded after the deaths of American personalities such as President John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, Holmes included several subtle digs at the United States. The Time Lord organisation which had occasionally been seen to manipulate the Doctor in the past was christened the Celestial Intervention Agency, sharing its initials with the Central Intelligence Agency (often accused of being at the centre of various conspiracies). The Doctor's line about “vaporisation without representation” mocked a similar American slogan about taxation that was popular during the War of Independence.

To this point, the Time Lords had been depicted in Doctor Who as essentially godlike individuals. To fill in the details of their culture, however, Holmes drew upon the fact that Gallifrey had been seen to produce so many renegades -- not just the Doctor amd the Master, but also the Meddling Monk (from The Time Meddler), the War Chief (from The War Games), Omega (from The Three Doctors) and Morbius (from The Brain Of Morbius). He decided to show that the Time Lords' previous manifestations masked a decaying, corrupt and stagnant civilisation. In so doing, Holmes created many of the concepts which would become hallmarks of Doctor Who's mythology, including Rassilon (the founder of Gallifreyan society), the Eye of Harmony, the Panopticon, the Matrix, the Prydonian chapter, artron energy, and the notion that Time Lords are limited to only twelve regenerations.

Robert Holmes created hallmarks of Doctor Who mythology, including Rassilon and the idea that Time Lords can only regenerate 12 times

The director assigned to The Deadly Assassin was David Maloney, whose last Doctor Who work had been on Planet Of Evil a year earlier. Maloney worked closely with designer Roger Murray-Leach and costume designer James Acheson to give Gallifrey a consistent, cohesive look. Although he would eventually be replaced on the serial by Joan Ellacott, Acheson contributed the Time Lords' distinctive high-collared apparel, while Murray-Leach reused a symbol he had designed for Season Twelve's Revenge Of The Cybermen as the Prydonian seal. Both would become enduring elements of Gallifrey's portrayal in Doctor Who, with the latter subsequently coming to be known as the “Seal of Rassilon”.

Eager to take Doctor Who into virgin territory, Hinchcliffe had requested that Holmes write one episode of The Deadly Assassin as a surrealist nightmare, to be captured entirely on film. This inspired the extended duel between the Doctor and Chancellor Goth within the confines of the Matrix, which formed the lion's share of the third installment and consumed the entirety of the serial's location filming. This began at Betchworth Quarry in Betchworth, Surrey, where material on the plains and in the wasteland was completed from July 26th to 28th.

On the last day, cast and crew moved to the Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Merstham, Surrey. Sequences in the jungle environment were recorded there through the 30th. Because the pond water was too murky, the shot of Goth trying to drown the Doctor was actually performed in the school's swimming pool. Work on July 30th concluded with the scene of the biplane attack, captured at Wycombe Air Park in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. This locale was a late substitution for the planned venue, the Redhill Aerodrome in Redhill, Surrey.

The first studio session for The Deadly Assassin took place from August 15th to 17th in BBC Television Centre Studio 3. For the role of the Master, Maloney had cast Peter Pratt, a skilled voice artiste and opera performer who had been a friend of Delgado's. Pratt's other television credits included Z Cars and Play For Today; this would be his only Doctor Who appearance prior to his death on January 11th, 1995. The first studio block principally dealt with episodes one and two, beginning with scenes in the TARDIS, the museum, and the cloisters on August 15th. The next day took in material in the chancellery, the lift and the Panopticon, including the climactic fight in part four. The 17th involved the completion of the remaining Panopticon scenes, as well as those in the service gallery and the records room.

A humorous title card at the end of episode four would have thanked the High Court of Time Lords for their co-operation

The second studio session was originally scheduled for August 30th and 31st, but was shifted to the 1st and 2nd of September. It was held in TC8, and was largely devoted to episodes three and four. September 1st saw the recording of the remaining records room material, as well as sequences set in the detention cell (from episode two) and the Master's sanctuary, which included scenes from the first two installments. The final studio day saw recording on the sets for the chancellery, the vault, the chimney, and the museum, the latter including a remount of the arrival of the TARDIS for part one.

At one point, it was planned to include a humorous title card at the end of episode four reading, “We thank the High Court of Time Lords and the Keeper of the Records for their help and co-operation”. Ultimately, however, it was decided that this lampooned the production too much, and it was removed. The transmission of part three on November 13th proved to be far less of a laughing matter, as it saw Doctor Who once again come under fire from Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers And Listeners Association. Whitehouse had attacked the programme on several occasions before, but never with such venom and conviction as she reserved for this particular broadcast.

Most significantly, Whitehouse roundly condemned the extended freeze-frame of the Doctor's head being held beneath the water which closed the episode, even quoting one child who had allegedly told his mother that he would do the same to his younger brother the next time the boy angered him. Unlike past complaints by Whitehouse's organisation, on this occasion the NVALA was successful in cajoling an apology from BBC Director General Sir Charles Curran. Indeed, the BBC even went so far as to edit the master tape of The Deadly Assassin part three to expunge the offending sequence altogether. Consequently, the BBC no longer holds a complete copy of the episode. Fortunately, it has been reconstructed using the analogous material from the serial's final installment.

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #187, 10th June 1992, “Archive: The Deadly Assassin” by Andrew Pixley, Marvel Comics UK Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #8, 1st September 2004, “Take It To The Limit” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In-Vision #18, August 1989, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 30th Oct 1976
Time 6.09pm
Duration 21'13"
Viewers (more) 11.8m (15th)
· BBC1 11.8m
Episode 2
Date 6th Nov 1976
Time 6.05pm
Duration 24'44"
Viewers (more) 12.1m (11th)
· BBC1 12.1m
Appreciation 59%
Episode 3
Date 13th Nov 1976
Time 6.07pm
Duration 24'20"
Viewers (more) 13.0m (12th)
· BBC1 13.0m
Episode 4
Date 20th Nov 1976
Time 6.07pm
Duration 24'30"
Viewers (more) 11.8m (12th)
· BBC1 11.8m
Appreciation 61%

Doctor Who
Tom Baker
The President
Llewellyn Rees
Chancellor Goth
Bernard Horsfall
Castellan Spandrell
George Pravda
Cardinal Borusa
Angus Mackay
The Master
Peter Pratt
Commentator Runcible
Hugh Walters
Co-ordinator Engin
Erik Chitty
Commander Hilred
Derek Seaton
Gold Usher
Maurice Quick
Time Lords
John Dawson
Michael Bilton
Peter Mayock
Helen Blatch

Written by
Robert Holmes
Directed by
David Maloney
Produced by
Philip Hinchcliffe

Fight Arranger
Terry Walsh
Incidental Music by
Dudley Simpson
Title Sequence by
Bernard Lodge
Title Music by
Ron Grainer and
the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Production Assistant
Nicholas Howard John
Production Unit Manager
Christopher D'Oyly-John
Film Cameraman
Fred Hamilton
Film Recordist
Graham Bedwell
Film Editor
Ian McKendrick
Visual Effects Designers
Peter Day
Len Hutton
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Studio Lighting
Brian Clemett
Studio Sound
Clive Gifford
Costume Designers
James Acheson
Joan Ellacott
Make-up Artist
Jean Williams
Roger Murray-Leach

Working Titles
The Dangerous Assassin

Updated 10th September 2009