Doctor Who: The Doomsday Contract Review

The second of the new double bill of Fourth Doctor Lost Stories jumps ahead a few seasons and sees us land slap-bang in the middle of the Douglas Adams-y era of The Doctor and Romana II. It was written by John Lloyd of Blackadder, QI and a whole bunch of other things-fame and script edited by Douglas Adams, so as you’d imagine it leans heavily into the humour side, which is fine, great even, if the story was actually fully formed… Let’s take a look…

Synopsis:

Earth – a small, insignificant planet. Entirely devoid of intelligent life.

At least that’s according to the legal documents. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves at the centre of a most unusual trial.

An intergalactic corporation wants to bulldoze the planet for a development project. Only a previous court’s preservation document is standing in their way. The Doctor has been summoned as an expert witness. If he can prove Earth contains intelligent life, the whole world will be saved.

But with a fortune at stake, it was never going to be that simple.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

The first episode or so are really good, with the extremely Hitchhikers-esque story of Earth about to be bulldozed by a greedy corporation and The Doctor is called to be a star witness to testify that the planet has sentient life on it. He was called to the stand by an old enemy-turned-friend called Smilax (Paul Panting) who runs a company that looks out for endangered species despite being a former hunter of endangered species, and the two meet up with their legal rep Tragacanth (Jeany Spark), which is apparently an actual word! Who knew? Anyway Romana and K9 analyse a piece of paper The Doctor was given by the man at the head of the corporation that wishes to destroy Earth, Skorpius (Richard Laing) and find out that if The Doctor testifies then it will prove he visited a preserved planet and would be executed. The Doctor buys himself a day by claiming he will soon have undeniable evidence but it’s made clear by kill-happy Judge Trent (Julian Wadham) that if he has wasted the courts time both The Doctor and Tragacanth will be vaporised.

This is where the story sort of falls apart and goes into a bunch of small sketches where sometimes the humour just doesn’t land (see below!) but it does have some fun ideas. Ghostly assassins that are going backwards through time and therefore think they’re bringing people back to life rather than killing them is fun (though completely falls apart if you think about how they actually talk to their victims and chase them as they run away, which if they were going backwards through time then they’d walk up to the dusty remains and then bring them back to life, so there shouldn’t be any chasing or talking… ANYWAY) and Skorpius gets what might be one of my favourite lines ever after showing off his collection of victims in their final death throes preserved as statues he says “I may not know Argh! but I know what I like!” I also like how it was resolved as they got the Judge to remove the preservation order, took him to Earth when it was legal and then got him to testify to himself that Earth had sentient life on it, though the order is then kept in place which means the Judge then kills himself, but I guess it was an alternate version of himself since this Judge won’t then end up going to Earth and… ANYWAY. So Part 1 is fun set up and there are one or two highlights, but…

The Bad:

I’m not exactly sure what pose The Doctor is supposed to be in, but sure…

This really felt like the Lost Story was actually a bunch of notes on a notepad and Nev Fountain, who adapted this Lost Story, decided to keep it as a bunch of small notes that don’t really follow on. Scenes with Romana and Smilax infiltrating Skorpius’ house and getting chased by weird creatures (who then feast of wine instead of them because they have a more refined pallet) The Doctor going into a witness protection micro-universe and meeting a village full of old fashioned types who try to “kill the stranger”, then The Doctor meeting a lost Jury who decided to not pass judgement and have stayed put for centuries where sadly the head Foreman is played by Nicholas Briggs, which as I always say takes me right out of any story because his voice to so prevalent everywhere that I can’t hear it as another character (unless it’s modulated for Daleks/Cybermen, obviously…) and I while I could just about take his brief scene in the previous Lost Story, this was a significantly longer role.

Some of these things had the right level of absurd Adams-y humour, but a lot try to have that kind of humour but it falls short. In the end the plan with the Judge could’ve been devised right after they left the courtroom at the start of the story, so everything else was just little run-around scenes that just didn’t seem to go anywhere… I will say that Skorpius was the man who was on trial where the missing Jury left, so The Doctor passed on the result of the hundreds-of-years long case and he was executed… well, he was nearly executed but he left, and then was actually killed a bit later. Again, bit of a needless run-around, and he was on trial for genocide because he refused to pay a parking ticket and the planet used its entire resource of trees in creating parking fine notices for him, which is the sort of jokey thing in a brief Adams sketch, but not really something that should’ve actually happened and be a central plot. Those jokes are funny because they’re absurd in passing, keep mentioning it and you can’t help but think about it more than you should…

The Continuity:

Not much to say. At the start, when the TARDIS materialises inside a courtroom, Judge Trent sentences the time machine as its somewhat sentient and puts it behind bars waiting for trial. This is the same as the Seventh Doctor audio “The Trial of a Time Machine”, though in this case the trial doesn’t go ahead…

Other than that though it’s pretty stand alone, though obvious with the character names and sense of humour it does feel close to the actually Adams-penned stories “City of Death” and “Shada”, though not nearly as well constructed!

Overall Thoughts:

While it has its moments, “The Doomsday Contract” is a bit of a mess. The starting premise and the end few scenes are good but the middle just unravels into a bunch of shorter scenes that don’t really blend well with each other. The Doctor, Romana and the guest cast are all on fine form and deliver a lot of a jokes well, but some of them just naturally fall flat. This feels like a Lost Story that was rightfully rejected because it needed a few more rewrites…

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