Before moving on to more substantial matters, let’s address the elephant in the room: “The Deadly Assassin” may be the goofiest title ever given to a Doctor Who story, and it’s been pointed out by many before me (including, I believe, incoming showrunner Steven Moffat). After all, if an assassin isn’t deadly, he’s not much of an assassin, is he? The working title for the story was “The Dangerous Assassin,” which is even sillier. But the title is the worst thing about this story, so don’t let it dissuade you from imbibing in one of the most important Who stories ever created.
This is Who 101, and for anyone who cares to have a deeper understanding of how the mythology of the Time Lords was established, this is basic, must-see material. Noteworthy, possibly, is that it took the series 13 years to get to the point where someone (writer/script editor Robert Holmes) felt it was a good idea to delve this deeply into the society from where the Doctor originated. Prior to this, the workings of Gallifrey had only been glimpsed, shrouded in nebulous secrecy. But “The Deadly Assassin” came along and blew the whistle on the Doctor’s home planet, took away much of the mystery, and changed the underlying backbone of the series in ways that affect the core of Who to this day. Had it been a weak script, the mechanics of it may have ultimately been ignored, but instead it struck a chord and went on to become a benchmark tale in Who history. In an era when the show was routinely finding inspiration in classic horror and sci-fi films, it stood apart from the pack by unabashedly stealing elements from a political thriller: The Manchurian Candidate.
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