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The Doctor arrives on Terminus, where sufferers from Lazar’s disease go to die. But that’s far from being the worst thing about this terrible place…

The Fact of Fiction

Scratching beneath the surface of Doctor Who’s most fascinating tales…

Terminus should have been better. The combination of a script by the writer of Warriors’ Gate (1981) and the director responsible for despatching the remaining members of Blake’s 7 in such a breathtaking manner in Blake (1981) should have resulted in a surefire classic. But the end result is…not entirely wonderful. Even by the standards of the time, the production looks rushed (because it was), while the monster is a doleful giant terrier with a paunch. Every now and then there are moments of tension and atmosphere…which are immediately defused by the bland lighting and the incessant synthesised terror-stings of Roger Limb. The plotting is also almost literally pedestrian, as the narrative is split between the Doctor and Kari walking through a space station, Nyssa and Olvir having a miserable time in another part of the space station, and Tegan and Turlough crawling through some ducts. Like the other two instalments of the ‘Black Guardian Trilogy’, it meanders, with no sense of urgency or threat.

But we’re here to celebrate Terminus, not to bury it. It’s a story with an important point – that the stigmatisation of an illness, and the ostracism of its victims, only serves to increase their suffering. The story goes from presenting the Lazars as objects of horror to people deserving our sympathy. The same applies to the Vanir, enslaved through their drug dependency. It would be a huge stretch to say that Terminus was about AIDS or heroin addiction, but the parallels are there.

Part One


In the TARDIS, the Doctor’s new companion Turlough (Mark Strickson) is in the service of the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall) on how to sabotage the ship. Turlough removes a roundel and operates some switches, then closes it before he is joined by Tegan (Janet Fielding).

▀ “The opening scene was by [script editor] Eric Saward, not me,” writer Stephen Gallagher told the fanzine In-Vision in 1996. “I’d done one, but it wasn’t used.” Saward’s scene was a very late addition made because the episode was underrunning. It was written at some point between the second recording block being completed on 27 October and the ‘remount’ on 18 November.”

▀ Ironically, the scene was then cut down, losing the opening dialogue: Turlough asks, “Now where? Answer?” and the Black Guardian replies, “There are few who are graced with the privilege of serving the Black Guardian.” “I’m sorry,” says Turlough. “I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful.” “I see into your heart, boy. I know the truth,” growls the Guardian. “I’m scared…” protests Turlough.

▀ As the roundel opens, the Guardian was scripted to explain, “The TARDIS is isomorphic. Only the Doctor is able to manipulate the controls and dismantle its key elements.” This line (a reference to a claim made by the Doctor in Pyramids of Mars (1975)) was possibly cut because it contradicts more recent scenes in Time-Flight (1982) and Arc of Infinity (1983).

▀ Gallagher was working from his final drafts of the story, rather than the broadcast episodes, when he novelised the story (under the pen name John Lydecker, published by WH Allen/Target in 1983). The novelisation includes material which is the product of a script discussion between Gallagher with Saward on 17 March, that was later cut; for example, Gallagher’s notes outline an opening scene that corresponds with the opening of the novelisation – Tegan: “Well, that’s the layout.” Turlough: “It goes on forever.” Tegan: “It can seem like it. It’s best if you don’t go wandering until you know your way around.” Turlough: “How am I supposed to manage?” Tegan: “Give me a call.” She indicates the door of the bedroom she shares with Nyssa. “Most of the time I’ll be over there.” Turlough: “Don’t I get a room?” Tegan: “I was coming to that next.”

Tegan and Turlough: not the happiest of TARDIS travellers.

▀ Excitingly, this scene is the first time that the round things on the walls are named ‘roundels’. The idea that they can contain hidden mechanisms was introduced in Castrovalva (1982), although as far back as The Wheel in Space (1968) the fluid link was located behind a roundel.

Tegan shows Turlough to the room previously occupied by Adric.

▀ Adric’s bedroom last appeared in Earthshock (1982), in which its erstwhile occupant met his doom. The room contains souvenirs of his adventures, such as a helix necklace from Kinda (1982), the android’s Grim Reaper mask from The Visitation (1982), and Adric’s fancy dress costume from Black Orchid (1982).

▀ In the rehearsal script, Turlough picks up ‘a mathematical puzzle’ rather than the Reaper mask. (To avoid repetition, references to the rehearsal script will just be ‘in the script’ from now on!)

Tegan goes to the room she shares with Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) who is engaged in biochemistry.

▀ Going by the novelisation, in Gallagher’s final draft the girls’ discussion about Turlough continued – Tegan: “You know he threatened me?” Nyssa: “Seriously?” Tegan: “It seemed serious enough at the time.” Nyssa: “Why?” Tegan: “I found him playing around with a roundel. He tried to laugh it off, but he’s up to something.” Nyssa: “Have you told the Doctor?” Tegan: “Not yet.” Nyssa: “Well, that means two of us are having a less than perfect day.” (To avoid repetition, references to final draft material will be referred to as ‘in the novelisation’. It is, of course, possible that some of this material is not from Gallagher’s final draft but was added or altered in the process of novelising the story.)

Turlough goes to the console room. He notices that the crystal the Guardian uses to communicate has repaired itself.

▀ Although it wasn’t required in the previous scene! The crystal was damaged when two Brigadiers shorted out a time differential in the preceding story, Mawdryn Undead (1983).

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About Doctor Who Magazine

New series preview issue! Contents include: an exclusive interview with Pearl Mackie who plays new companion Bill Potts; previews of the first three episodes of the 2017 season – The Pilot, Smile and Thin Ice, with exclusive interviews with writers Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Sarah Dollard; Doctor Who's producers Nikki Wilson and Peter Bennett reveal the behind-the-scenes secrets of the making of the show; 1983's Terminus is put under the spotlight in The Fact of Fiction; The Time Team watch 2011's The Curse of the Black Spot; showrunner Steven Moffat introducers the writers of the 2017 series in his latest column; brand new comic strip action as the Doctor and Jess have a showdown with the Master in Doorway to Hell; plus previews, reviews, official news, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!