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State of Decay, OR, Unembarrassed by Vampires

September 1, 2015

state of decay

When the Eleventh Doctor meets vampires in Renaissance Venice, he spends a deal of time being embarrassed by the possibility of anything so vulgarly supernatural and the story eventually provides an opt out from “mere” folklorism.

But the Fourth Doctor had already met vampires.  He called them vampires.  They were immortal beings who drank blood and could be killed with a stake through the heart.  Writer Terence Dicks just took the view that the universe (+ e-space) was a very very large place and might conceivably contain vampires.

As an adventure, there are a number of things to recommend State of Decay.  The story is well crafted, as you’d expect from a veteran script editor, and the detail of the script crackles rather more than the four or five adventures preceding it.  It also looks great, for the most part.  The costumes and make up are creepy enough. The “Three who Rule” are satisfyingly ravenous and Emrys James lends his operative tones to Aukon, seemingly the most authoritative of the three.  It is nice to see the use of the properly lesbian vampire sounding name of “Camilla”.

Meanwhile, among the Tardis crew, Tom Baker relishes his restored quota of witty dialogue – Romana is less grumpy than of late and Adric?

Well – Adric is Adric.

The Doctor and Romana are only made aware that they now have Adric as a companion in the third episode.  They are less than overjoyed.

The story was an idea Dicks had had for a while.  Some e-spacey context is added, but it might have been successfully mounted several years earlier.  In particular, State of Decay is a story that Dudley Simpson would have loved to have scored.  Paddy Kingsland’s electronic scores were good at communicating ethereal other worldly strangeness but were no good at Gothic.   State of Decay needed the kind of music that had worked so well during the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era (the era for which it was originally intended)  if it was to help disguise stuff like the rather unconvincing King Vampire (just a hand) and the amusingly diagrammatic 180 degree turn of the spaceship (bowship) that resolves matters in episode four.

State of Decay is a Philip Hinchcliffely adventure by Terence Dicks, imported into the Bidmead/JNT era.  But looking forward to the Venetian Vampires of the Eleventh Doctor, it’s a reminder of a time when Gothic horror was one of the main things that Doctor Who was good at.   Terence Dicks wrote an adventure that demonstrates that given a universe big enough (or even a relatively small universe like e-space) the distinction between mythology and science becomes meaningless – you’re just dealing with different narratives for encoding experiences.

When you see a vampire, in other words, don’t mess about and please don’t apologise  – just call it a vampire.


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  1. Bradstreet permalink

    It’s my favourite story of that season, at least partly because it bears so few of Bidmead’s fingerprints. He wanted to ditch Dicks’ horror movie and turn it into a sci-fi adventure with no gothic trappings, but was vetoed by director Peter Moffat.. The more that I hear about Bidmead, the more that his approach to the show seems totally wrongheaded. In one of the recent DWM specials he was interviewed about the Tardis, and the interviewer mentioned the Clarke adage about advanced science being indistinguishable from magic. Bidmead got really angry with the idea, which suggests that he didn’t actually understand what Clarke meant.

    • I sometimes think that Bidmead liked to edit scripts with sandpaper. That said – I liked Frontios.

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