Terminus: Doctor Who: Season 20
At the orders of the Black Guardian, Turlough sabotages the Tardis causing it break up, the Doctor activates the fail safe and the Tardis attaches itself to the nearest object, a space ship bound for Terminus. The entrance to the ship appears in Nyssa's room and she flees through to escape the Tardis break up.
The Doctor follows and finds Nyssa as well as two space pirates Kari and Olvir. They all realise they are on a ship transporting Lazars disease sufferers to the complex on Terminus. There the party encounters the Vanir who give the patients over to a creature called the Garm. Tegan and Turlough attempt to follow but escaping a lethal flood of gas become trapped in the ships ducting system.
Nyssa is delivered to the Garm for the potentially deadly radiation experiments which could kill or cure and the Doctor and Kari find an injured Vanir who has discovered the dead pilot of Terminus and found out the engines are on the point of releasing exploding fuel which will destroy everything.
The only chance of stopping this chain reaction is the strength of the giant Garm but they have to first free him from the control box of the Vanir and convince the Vanir that they too can be free of the company that employs them.
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Terminus CAST & CREW
Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor)
Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)
Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka)
Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough)
Valentine Dyall — Black Guardian
Liza Goddard — Kari
Dominic Guard — Olvir
Andrew Burt — Valgard
Tim Munro — Sigurd
Martin Potter — Eirak
Peter Benson — Bor
R.J. Bell — The Garm
Martin Muncaster — Tannoy Voice
Rachel Weaver — Inga
Production Staff for Serial 6G:
Writer - Stephen Gallagher
Director - Mary Ridge
Script editor - Eric Saward
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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Ever notice this pattern in Davison stories? A really excellent story is usually followed by an extremely average or crap one. In this case Terminus.
Thus do we hurl from the rolling hills of an English public school in 2 timezones and an art deco spaceship to a grungy, derelict spaceship terminal somewhere in the distant future. It's Steve Gallagher's second story and after the brilliance of Warriors' Gate we get this…Terminus does a have a raft of Gallager high concepts but like a band's all important make or break second album it falls flat. The low point of season 20 has arrived!
Terminus starts off really well with Turlough's and Tegan's interaction in the Tardis, she clearly doesn't like him and he's at his smooth and smarmy best trying to win her over and failing badly, especially when his attempt to sabotage the Tardis is revealed. Then one of my favourite Davison moments, he doesn't appear until about 7 minutes into the story and when he does it's with his most indignant line ever "The consoles jamming!" The whole opening stuff of the Tardis breaking apart, slimy old Black Guardian, Valentine Dyall promising Turlough he will rescue him from space and the ship latching onto Terminus to stop it from breaking up is great.
Nyssa is put into mortal danger and seems to be the one to drive the whole plot forward as she gets lost in Terminus, gets sick and starts stripping off her outer garments down to the her frilly underwear as the male TV audience warmly applaud. What better way to make your exit in a final story? The whole of part one is really a good build up of a doom laden place full of death and disease and the climax of the crew being trapped by a horde of Lazars (read lepers) whose touch can give you the plague it bodes well. Then it starts sliding downhill rapidly firstly with the two space pirates that join up with the Doctor, looking and acting like they've both just failed an audition to star in Duran Duran's latest music video. One of them being Colin Baker's wife.
Then there's the Vanir. These guys were a good concept, like the Gundan, they look like broken down has been's in cloaks with clunky armour that were once great warriors but now dependent on hydromol and reduced to being human baggage handlers. But there characters are all bland or stereo typed, The workaholic deceptive leader that no one likes, the brutal number 2 who wants to overthrow him and the only one that looks like he isn't just going through the motions is the one whose been badly burnt and appears to be going mad. The only effective bit I remember is Davison beating the crap out of the 'brutal second in command' in part 3. Then there's the plot that revolves around the creation of the universe by a dead astronaut that the Doctor and Kari find and of course there's the Garm, a great concept badly realised.
Why hasn't someone fired this inept designer of monster costumes? There seem to be two designers one who does the good stuff like the Gundans, Melkur and the updated cybermen and the other who churns out shit monsters like Marshmen, tereleptils and the Ergon…and here's the latest effort - a big man with a giant panto Dog's head jammed on his bonce. You can even see the cloth ending in his mouth the actor has to see through Maybe that's why there's so few monsters in season 20? To stop more shite being shown on screen? Anyway the detail eludes me but Tegan and Turlough end up running around corridors or crawling through vents arguing with each other the whole time. Nyssa is chained up, shoved around by the vanir and then given to dogman while moaning she can cure everybody and the Dr. wanders round trying to annoy everyone but Davison doesn't look like he knows what's going on.
Disappointing second outing from Gallagher and Nyssa suddenly decides to stay behind, Sarah Sutton probably realising the quality of the series was quickly sinking and it's a quick but not developed leaving scene, though is she the first companion I remember kissing the Doctor goodbye? Had she stayed for one more story she would have been reduced to Bikini's and that's the only real shame. Bye Bye Nyssa you were a worthy if unrealised companion. All up 5/10.
Terminus - I love it. It's one of the absolute highlights of season 20 for me, and definitely up there with other Davison classics. It has a very good opening scene with Tegan and Turlough and for once you actually get a decent meaty scene with the companions actually behaving like proper characters rather than being a "cypher for the audience at home". Its mistrust all round when it comes to Turlough cos Tegan hates him, he hates Tegan and Nyssa is the voice of reason between them. For once we also get to see more of the Tardis interior (okay, a lot of corridors) but we also revisit Adric's bedroom (god knows what went on in there) and Nyssa's science room. I often yap on about the overlit scenes in Dr Who which really flatten out the atmosphere, but for once it actually works to the story's benefit with the stark and sterile lighting in the opening Tardis scenes really highlighting the creepiness of Turlough cos the lighting really does make him look, well, alien! Also for once we don't even come across the Doctor for a fair while as the whole opening ten or so minutes is just the three companions and this actually adds something to them.
As opening episodes go, this really got me hooked into the story as it is so atmospheric. A lot of people say that Terminus is too drab, too stark and virtually nothing happens for the first episode if not more cos of all the wandering around the ships. I disagree; there is a tremendous amount of atmosphere here and for once we are encountering a ship where it is really fucked. If you wanted a desolate, barren, eerie, foreboding ship then the passenger liner is pretty much it. The painted skulls make it even more foreboding cos you start to wonder how this ship can be hazardous.
Then there is the service drone which again fits so well in with the ship. Its not human looking, there is no identity to it and it exactly what it is - a functionary robot and nothing else. This is the same type of atmosphere in Gallagher's other story Warriors Gate; very industrial, falling apart and the characters who work there are just work-a-day Joes who have a simple job to do and that is it. It could really be any industrial complex in Dandenong! Strip the characters of their armour and whack them into those union fluro tops and its the same thing.
As a disease, Lazars disease (obviously lepresy) is very depressing so its quite alarming to watch the possibility of one of the regulars be infected by it and then go through a very crude radiation treatment (Chemo, anyone?) Again there has been criticism of the whole bleakness and despair but I really liked this atmosphere and its very well realised. Even the creepy tannoy voice adds to the overall doom and gloom.
The Terminus station is also well realised cos its the sort of thing that doesn't require a huge step in design; its just scaffolding and large overhead lights which any television studio has in abundance. In contrast to the overlit Tardis scenes, Terminus is very dark so your imagination has to run overtime. Pity they couldn't have done what Gallagher originally wanted and kept Flash The Wonderdog only in the shadows so all you see is a faint outline and a pair of dimly lit eyes. Still, you gotta have your monster don't you?
The characters are all very good in the story. The Terminus crew are bordering on lethargic due to their conditions. In fact they are just as stuffed as the lazars they are supposedly treating cos they are going to die of radiation exposure - the same radiation exposure that is supposed to cure the Lazars!
Speaking of scientific logic, there are some amazing scientific plot holes that are so large you drive the entire Terminus station through it backwards. Some of it I love, like the concept of the universe beginning cos someone decided to empty their petrol tank, to the ridiculously simple way to fuck up the Tardis; "operate the blue switches!" Then there is the stuff that SHOULD have been explained since it is within the context of the overall story) like what happened to all the Lazars that WERE cured? Where did they go? Nyssa is weak with disease one minute, and then overpowering guards in armour the next. And what the hell is Flash The Wonderdog doing there anyway?
Guest characters are all very good; Blor (he has the fucking HUGE nose) is a nice comedy foil, Sigurd and Valgard do very well as the poor Terminus workers and Eirak is exactly the sort of factory supervisor you would see at any low-paid industry job. Didn't mind either of the Duran Duran refugees although I think Liza Goddard was better than Dominic Guard, I think she is just a better and experienced actor than he is. Tegan and Turlough continued their scenes from being stuck in the Tardis to being stuck in the ventilator shaft (again, those scenes were very tightly directed) and I can sympathise with Peter davison that by this stage his character wasn't really going anywhere.
And finally Nyssa. Yeah; she's busting out all over. Why she was is never explained although maybe she had a fever and broke out in a sweat? Its the obvious reason for her to leave - to put her scientific skills and compassion to good use. Its a short sharp goodbye, not in the same league as maybe the Sarah Jane leaving scene but still quite nice.
Overall, I reckon that the reason Terminus succeeds for me is the same reason it fails for so many others; its the drab and unrelenting amtosphere which is certainly helped by the fantastic build up from episode one. 10/10
Terminus is a hard one to rate. I mean, it's not awful, but it's also not good. Although Terminus starts off well using some classic sci fi tools - craft goes off course (nicely leaning on the Guardian subplot), collides with another craft, crew get separated on the other craft… and then 2 of them get stuck in an air-conditioning duct. And it's all done with the right amount of tension and build up, leaving you really keen to get into part 2. But then the rest of the story just leaves you a bit… meh!
It's not all bad - Nyssa's story is quite good (despite the awful faux faint before stumbling across Olvir), and a nice farewell in the end. I remember watching this as a kid thinking that she was going to end up going the same way Adric did… that would have been a bit too rough for my 9 year old brain to take! But no, it was all done rather "Romanaly" - and instead of getting a tin dog, she got an over sized "what the fuck is he really doing in this story" dog… but before getting onto that there's one more thing about Nyssa in this story that needs mentioned… Grob's number 1 moment in 1983 - the skirt drop.
Interesting that Sutton has said since that the only reason that happened was because there had been a lot of mail sent in about the lack of skin Nyssa shows. Interestingly, all of this mail came from Australia, and was decorated with little dalek caricatures… any ideas? I think I'd like to be a Doctor graduating from the Nyssa school of Doctoring… "Hmmm, I understand your symptoms, but let me ask you one more thing - do you feel like you're going to burst? Yes? Well, get that skirt off and you should be fine!"
The rest of my memories of a 9 year old were that Terminus was a good story… hmmm… Nyssa story aside, the rest of it is just a bit all over the place. I guess it's possible that Gallagher had written this before the whole Black Guardian thing, and that story was just tacked in - and perhaps in doing that they threw out the bit about what the hell the Garm was and how it got to be there in the first place? Seems to me that he was just thrown in there cos they needed something with great strength to push the big red lever back in part 4… part of a subplot that is not thought through as the Garm.
Why have they thrown that in? It has no significance to the rest of the story, and I reckon it was just included cos they didn't think the leper colony storyline was going to be interesting enough. Now the original leper story could have been interesting enough, had they not thrown in Olvir and Kari. I'm sure they were just tacked in so that they had someone who knew about Lazir's disease - "Now we know don't we!". Why couldn't Turlough's sister have been picked up by Terminus? He could have been the one to recognise it, then we wouldn't have had these extra 2 to be left largely unexplained.
This script makes me think that the strange and weird looseness that made Warriors Gate so interesting, was just a fluke. Terminus just tries to be too many things, and it doesn't need to be. If they'd stuck with just the Terminus / Lazir storyline (and explained the Garm), then we would have had an interesting story. Sure it would have been a story that didn't have a huge "world is going to end" premise, but who cares? That would have given more for the Guardian storyline to progress too - this starts off well here, but just sort of peters out a bit. Pity, cos in that other big trilogy of the time, part 2 was probably the best one!
For what it's worth, the script is realised well. There's some good recycling done - the set from Earthshock is spray-painted and comes up a treat, and they get to use that strange robot thing from the Sontaran Experiment - best hold onto that cos you can use it again in a story with that bloke from The Good Life in a few years! It's nice and dark and bleak though, as you'd expect a "Lazir ship" to be… not sure why they chose to shoot the air-conditioning duct bits on film cos it doesn't really add to them - but still, it's all fine… except for the fishbowls that Olvir and Kari wear… but they shouldn't have been there anyway!
BTW - is this the first time that the word "roundels" is used?
So I guess Terminus is good ideas, muddied by an average script due to editing or otherwise.
2.5 points for part 1, 3 points for Nyssa's story, and .1 for the use of the word "hydromel"… good word! 5.6/10
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