Emaciated Master makeup for THE DEADY ASSASSIN.
THE gothic tradition in DOCTOR WHO’s mid 1970s serials runs deep through the British science fantasy tradition, placing the exotic into our stoic world - Dracula may be chilling in Transylvania, but he is absolutely terrifying in Yorkshire. Most fans of the original DOCTOR WHO believe this period to be the golden era, when Tom Baker's goggle-eyed eccentricity was married with chilling horror stories. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes plundered Universal, Hammer and 1950s science fiction movies for their inspiration, as murderous dummies and disembodied hands kept Mary Whitehouse busy filing letters to the BBC. DOCTOR WHO’s take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818) - THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS (1976) - predictably summoned the wrath of the self appointed moral guardian, with Whitehouse proclaiming the story “contained some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children’s television.” When the Corporation issued an unprecedented apology to Whitehouse over a drowning sequence at the end of episode three of THE DEADLY ASSASSIN (1976), the repercussions were far-reaching: never would the show be as consistently absorbing again.
Hinchcliffe and Holmes’ debut season saw them tackle a set of scripts already commissioned during Barry Letts’ time as producer. Although the season featured reassuringly traditional elements, there was also a clear indication that the show was undergoing significant change, particularly the phasing out of UNIT. The classic GENESIS OF THE DALEKS (1975) - with its themes of racial hatred and war - was one example of a more horrific yet realistic quality. But calling Hinchcliffe’s tenure simply “the horror era” detracts from the ingenuity and intelligence channelled into the programme during this time. Writers, designers and directors were specifically briefed and consulted prior to production, and assigned to their strengths (budget willing) to bring Hinchcliffe and Holmes’s serial thrillers to life: each story had to have a power, a mix of rounded characterisation and sense of atmosphere to adhere to the required adult scientific concepts and convincing worlds.