Doctor Who – The Awakening

Doctor Who – The Awakening
Story 131
January, 1984

In 1643, war came to the village of Little Hodcombe. An historic recreation of the event takes on a sinister edge as an alien presence makes the danger all the more real, bringing a small English village to the brink of destruction.

In a series of monster-centric adventures, an historic two-parter mainly focusing on the danger of every day people is easily missed. I have written before about Davison’s strong premiere series being followed by a lackluster second only to shine in his final outing. This is another moment for Davison to comes across as a very strong actor as he faces threats both real and imaginary in the form of the soldiers and the psychic weapon the Malus.

The stories in the 1984 series aren’t much to crow about, but Davison seems to have found his footing as the frenetic do-gooder with a heart (s?) of gold against impossible odds. A flawed hero, Davison’s Doctor was constantly working harder than his predecessors did to save the day, making the program more dynamic and full of danger than it was before. His predecessor Tom Baker made every major victory look liker child’s play, removing any real drama from the program and inserting an element of the absurd. Incoming producer John Nathan Turner saw the departure of Tom Baker as an opportunity to add an edge of realism and action to Doctor Who and at the center of that was Peter Davison.

the Doctor (Peter Davison) is restrained by soldiers

It’s important to remember that for all intents and purposes, the 5th Doctor’s reign from 1981-84 was not only a bold attempt at revitalizing the program and a major gamble in years by replacing Tom Baker with a young actor, but also the height of the program’s popularity. Thanks to the hard work of JNT in marketing the program in America and supporting the convention circuit, Doctor Who changed from an obscure cult sci-fi program into a cult sci-fi program with a devoted (and growing) fan base in the United States… kind of like now. For many fans of Doctor Who at the time, Davison was the new face of the program and the sign that it was welcoming them into the fold.

A lot of responsibility of Doctor Who in the 80’s is laid at the feet of John Nathan Turner who made almost all of the big decisions that forever altered Doctor Who. Despite a major decline in of Doctor Who in 1984, most of these decisions were beneficial and in the long run gained the program an increase in popularity. Part of JNT’s approach as producer was to craft the year-long run of the series into several four-part stories and one two-parter. The last of these short adventures, the Awakening, is a mixed bag of results but still an adventure worthy of viewing.

Initially, The Awakening was entitled ‘Warhead’ or War Game and was intended to lead into the upcoming return of the Daleks (possibly called ‘The Darkness’). However, the idea was scrapped and as a result the story feels a little open-ended and unclear. Beginning with an unlikely attempt to help Tegan visit her uncle, the Doctor lands the TARDIS in the village of Little Hodcombe. What is normally a quiet village is unfortunately in the midst of an historic war games exercise. What could have been a harmless event turns more sinister as Sir George Hutchinson leads the townsfolk to the edge of insanity as he transforms the quiet village into a war zone.

As the Doctor chases a temporal ghost through the town church on the verge of disrepair, he begins to sense that there may be more to the situation than an overzealous madman. Teaming up with local schoolteacher Jane Hampden, the Doctor soon uncovers that the war games are being manipulated to a fever pitch by an alien entity known as the Malus.

What is essentially a giant stone muppet built into a wall becomes rather striking in this story. A psychic weapon that preys on the minds of the native population making way for an alien invasion, the Malus is apparently the relic of a forgotten alien attack on the planet that the Doctor must defuse.

Will Chandler, the companion who never was

In addition to Jane Hampden, the time-tossed character of Will Chandler gets wrapped up in the adventure. Transported from the past due to the Malus’ energy, Chandler holds the key to unraveling the mystery of the alien threat. He was also considered at the time as a new companion which makes perfect sense as he has nowhere to go and seems to trust the Doctor as authority figure. He’s sort of like Adric done right in some ways. Despite all this, he was passed on and promptly disappears.

The adventure is full of some beautiful locations, great outdoor camera work, some superb guest actors and an impressive script by Eric Pringle. The lack of any real closure and the often goofy special effects and over-acting attempt to dismantle what is a cracking good adventure from the 1984 series.

In the story of the Awakening is a message in the meaningless of war and its path to madness. Sure, Malus was manipulating the townsfolk into a frenzy, but they were  also quite keen to relive a moment in their history when sheer unbridled violence visited their village… which is pretty messed up. In that way, Pringle’s story is as much an alien invasion tale as it is a look at everyday people and their disassociation with both history and war.

There are currently no plans that I know of to release the Awakening on DVD, but as there are so few remaining stories from this era to be released, I suspect it will be packaged with Frontios as a box set (the fifth such set for Davison!) after the upcoming Mara Tales set.

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