The Deadly Assassin
The Deadly Assassin was the third story of Season 14 of Doctor Who. It was the only televised story in the original run of Doctor Who not to feature a companion. Tom Baker had told Philip Hinchcliffe he could hold the show on his own. With this story already in place, it was seen as a pilot for such companion-less stories. However, it was deemed that a companion was a necessary feature of the show.
This serial saw the return of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, the Master, but in a heavily decayed state played by Peter Pratt. Roger Delgado had died in an automobile accident three years earlier, requiring a new actor to take his place. Afterward, the Master became subject to a change in appearance and other changes as needed when an actor replaced the role, much like the Doctor.
Narratively, this serial introduced several aspects of Time Lord society which would be used or referenced again, including the Matrix, Time Lord Chapters, Time Lord head dress and robes, and of course Rassilon. It also introduced the Rule of Twelve; the restriction of a Time Lord to a finite limit of twelve regenerations, allowing a maximum of through thirteen incarnations, after which the Time Lord would suffer permanent death.
Later stories would reveal that there are exceptions to the rule, such as the Doctor, who was granted a new regeneration cycle when his final incarnation reached the point of death in The Time of the Doctor; and the Master, who, after exhausting his original cycle, stealing a non-Gallifreyan body, and being executed by the Daleks in the 1996 TV movie, was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War, gaining a new cycle in the process.
Having dropped former companion Sarah Jane Smith back home, the Fourth Doctor heads to Gallifrey in answer to the Time Lords’ summons. On the way, he is struck by a premonition in which he seems to assassinate the Time Lord President from a gallery overlooking the Panopticon.
The TARDIS lands in the security area of the Citadel. Commander Hilred immediately impounds it and orders the arrest of its owner. The Doctor leaves a note on the console warning of his premonition and sneaks out of the TARDIS into the Citadel. He is cornered by a guard, who is shot dead by an unknown assailant.
The arrival of an unregistered TARDIS in a high-security area raises the tension of an already tense day – the President is resigning and is about to name his successor. The Castellan Spandrell berates Hildred for his incompetence in letting the Doctor, a renegade who apparently is also a murderer, run loose in the capitol.
Hildred transducts the TARDIS into the capitol, unaware the Doctor has sneaked back and hidden himself on board. Meanwhile, his movements are being monitored by a dark, robed figure and an unknown associate.
The Doctor infiltrates the resignation announcement by stealing a Time Lord’s ceremonial robes. While trying to remain incognito in the crowded floor he encounters an old classmate, Runcible, now a newscaster, preparing his broadcast from the Panopticon floor. Runcible greets him coolly while waiting for a signal from a camera operator in the gallery. The Doctor looks up and is horrified to see a staser rifle fixed to the railing near the unattended camera. He causes a commotion as he charges through the room.
As the President enters and stands at the dais, the Doctor grabs the staser rifle. He aims and fires. The President falls down dead.
The Doctor is quickly apprehended by security. The assassination has thrown Gallifrey into a constitutional crisis because the President had yet to name his successor. Chancellor Goth, thought to have been the most likely successor, calls for prompt elections and opts to stand as a candidate. Goth also urges the Doctor’s swift trial and execution.
At the trial, Goth’s prosecution moves swiftly. The Doctor, however, invokes Article 17 of the Gallifreyan Constitution, naming himself as a candidate for President. Under it, he cannot be denied the right to make his claim. Goth is outraged, but Chancellor Borusa (the Doctor’s former teacher at the Academy) acknowledges that the article gives him protection. He is grudgingly given forty-eight hours to prove his innocence.
The robed figure is told by his associate of the Doctor’s use of the constitutional loophole. He has anticipated this. The figure is shown as a horribly disfigured and decaying husk.
The Doctor attempts to convince Spandrell and Coordinator Engin of his innocence; his shot was intended for the actual assassin, who stood in the crowd on the Panopticon floor. Someone is going to great lengths to frame him. He notes that the sights had been fixed on the rifle to intentionally throw off his aim. Spandrell confirms this by aiming at a target himself. He begins to believe the Doctor. They find the Doctor’s original blast mark on the wall. The Doctor realizes the gallery camera would have recorded the actual assassin. Runcible screams with horror when he looks into the camera barrel.
Running to the gallery, they find the camera barrel empty except for the miniaturized corpse of the cameraman. The Doctor recognizes this as the work of his arch enemy, the Master, and reasons that he has returned to Gallifrey for a final showdown. Runcible goes to fetch the recordings, but when he returns, he falls with a knife protruding from his back.
Spandrell and Engin cannot comprehend why there is no bio data extract for the Master in the APC Net (aka the Matrix). This is a network of past and present Time Lord minds that acts as an enormous database and future forecaster. The Doctor decides there must be an unauthorized second access point into the Matrix. The Master used this to forecast the assassination into his mind and then wipe all trace from the Matrix. He reasons that either the Master or the assassin working with him must be inside the Matrix. Despite the stern warning from Engin, he interfaces with the Matrix to find him.
The Doctor finds himself in a vast, rapidly shifting terrain, the domain of the assassin. The two engage in a pitched battle of wills. The assassin has the definite advantage of having created the virtual reality world inside the Matrix.
The Doctor evades the many pitfalls laid for him inside the Matrix. These include being strafed by a biplane and tracked by the assassin. His physical body (still in the APC room) is enduring a terrible and potentially lethal strain. Meanwhile, the assassin is finding the battle of wills extremely taxing as well. The Master increases the power, despite the assassin’s plea it will kill him. The Doctor begins to turn the tables on his assailant, first by booby trapping the hunter’s equipment, then by avoiding the water poisoned by the assassin. He improvises a blowpipe and shoots a poisoned dart at the assassin, but is wounded himself.
As the Doctor comes closer to winning the conflict, the Master sends one of the chancellor’s guards now under his power to the APC room to kill the Doctor. Engin spots the guard, Solis, tampering with the controls. Spandrell shoots Solis to protect the Doctor.
In the Matrix, the Doctor gains the upper hand against the assassin, who reveals himself as Goth. The Doctor tricks Goth into firing his rifle while in a cloud of swamp gas. As the world around them erupts in chaos and flames, Goth seizes the Doctor and holds his head underwater, about to drown him.
The Doctor throws him off and escapes from the Matrix. He revives in Spandrell’s office. He informs the shocked Castellan of the assassin’s identity. They trace the location of their lair, where they find the Master’s lifeless body – he seems to have taken his own life. Goth, himself near death, admits he was power-hungry and bitter on learning he wasn’t to be the President’s successor. He had found the dying Master on planet Tersurus, his body at the end of his regeneration cycle, and brought him to Gallifrey to help him fulfill his scheme. Goth dies before he can reveal just what the Master’s plan was.
Cleared of all charges, the Doctor still has lingering doubts. He wants to know the Master’s plan. He doubts the Master would accept death so easily. He reasons that the solution lies in the ceremonial relics given to the President on induction, the Sash and Rod of Rassilon, and researches their links to ancient Gallifreyan mythology.
The Doctor’s suspicions are confirmed. The Master has faked his own death. He steals the Sash and Rod, which are the keys to the Eye of Harmony, the heart of a black hole captured by ancient Time Lord Rassilon. It is the source of Time Lord power. The Master seeks the power of the Eye to restart his regeneration cycle, even though Gallifrey would be destroyed by doing so. He uses the Rod to unlock the Eye of Harmony, hidden below the Panopticon floor. This begins to release its energy, which would be channeled through the Sash to rejuvenate him.
The Doctor wrestles with him. The ground shakes around them. Before the Master can uncouple the last cable from the Eye, the Doctor pulls him away and he falls through a fissure in the floor. The Doctor reconnects the cables, bringing the crisis to an end.
Borusa is appalled at the damage; half the capitol city lies in ruins and countless lives are lost. Even so, he accepts Engin’s claim that the Doctor’s actions prevented further catastrophe. Recalling their old relationship as teacher and student, Borusa gives the Doctor a grade of 9 out of 10. The Doctor departs in the TARDIS. Afterwards, Spandrell discovers that the Master has survived and escaped in his own TARDIS, disguised as a grandfather clock. He expresses confidence that the Doctor and the Master will cross paths again.