Doctor Who – Terminus Review (or ‘Terminally Boring’)

I’ve been fairly critical of some writers in my time reviewing Doctor Who. In particular, I’ve derided the works of Bob Baker & Dave Martin as being garbage. It’s likely I probably said they were the worst writers in the show’s history at some point.

But I said that without taking some of the 80s writers into consideration.

You’ve got Peter Grimwade, responsible for such ‘classics’ as Time Flight, Mawdryn Undead and Planet of Fire, while Johnny Byrne penned Arc of Infinity and Warriors of the Deep (he also wrote Keeper of Traken as well, and that saves his skin).

And then there’s the writer of two of the most deathly dull stories ever written; two stories that are sure-fire inductees into the Stuart Reviews Stuff Hall of Shame, Warriors Gate and Terminus.

Usually I don’t give the game away so early into a review, but I think you could all guess that I think this story is a steaming, festering pile of you know what, so why beat about the bush.

Doctor Who – Terminus Review: What’s This One About

The Doctor and a woman with big hair walk around a dank space ship, Nyssa proves that when it comes to clothes, sometimes more is more, Tegan and Turlough do absolutely nothing, and a transvestite and a giant dog also play some part.

Tegan & Turlough have plenty to keep themselves busy and interested in Terminus

Tegan & Turlough have plenty to keep themselves busy and interested in Terminus

Thoughts – Let’s Start With The Good

No, I’m not taking the piss – there are a few things that are worth commending about Terminus.

One is a bolted on scene at the start that contains one of the stupidest and yet most brilliant lines in the history of Doctor Who.

When Turlough shouts “Where have you gone” at the Black Guardian and Tegan asks who he was talking to, he replies “I was singing. Not very well I’m afraid”.

That’s genius.

I consider it a life ambition to somehow replicate that situation.

Other than that, the sets aren’t all that bad, even though they go against everything I like. Personally, I’m a colour whore. If something is bright and colourful and it catches my eye, then I’m happy. Put me in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Mania in Disney World and I’m happy as a sandboy. Present me with something bleak and I’m not interested. Generally I can’t abide post-apocalyptic or dystopian stuff and it means I can’t play games which I expect are actually pretty good, like Fallout.

Anyway, despite my reservations, those sets aren’t the worst.

The third and final aspect of Terminus I like is the performance of Peter Benson as Bor. In amongst a guest cast or hammy shouty actors, he plays his part with a certain flair. Indeed, for him to shine in a story like this must suggest he’s one of the better actors to appear in this entire era of the show.

So well done Peter Benson.

But as far as the good things about Terminus, that’s it.

Let’s All Blame The Director; After All, She’s Dead

After watching what must go down as one of the most boring and pointless Doctor Who stories ever written, I watched the accompanying documentary on the DVD to see what the cast and crew had to say about it.

What I immediately noticed was that they foisted most of the blame onto the shoulders of the long-since-deceased director, Mary Ridge.

They blamed her old style, her inability to change, her lack of knowledge of the subject matter and her lingering reaction shots. It was quite the burial, so to speak.

Big Dog isn't interested in a fight. He has work to be getting on with

Big Dog isn’t interested in a fight. He has work to be getting on with

Blame was also piled onto the costume designer – Dee Robson – for the costumes of the Vanir and the Garm. I don’t think Robson is dead, but she certainly wasn’t around to defend herself here.

In both cases, I find that unfair.

Yes, the direction was often laboured and the overall pace of the story was slow, and yes, the costume design wasn’t the best, but these issues – especially the latter – are not the reason for why Terminus is dire.

It’s the writing.

Stephen Gallagher sits there defending his work as you would expect him to do, but he’s deluded.

He says that having three companions allowed him to develop his story in that you could have two sets of characters carrying the story in their own ways.

Is he insane or just blind?

There has never been a story where a companion – or in this case two companions – have been so unnecessary to the plot.

Tegan and Turlough do absolutely nothing for pretty much four entire episodes. They just sit in a vent. Apart from the episode three cliffhanger where Turlough accidentally sets off the fuel dumping they have no relevance to the plot at all.

Occasionally they’ll have a scene where they just sit about and say “Well, we’ve got to get out of here”, but that is not a storyline.

Once again Tegan offers nothing to a Doctor Who story, while Nyssa has at least something to do. And yet it’s Nyssa who gets written out at the end. Smart move.

And while Tegan and Turlough sit about doing bugger all, the rest of the cast only do slightly more.

Even the Doctor is limited to wandering around a ship looking for the exit for the entirety of the story. Once or twice he gets into fights with that bloke whose motivation escapes me, but that’s it.

Nyssa gets sick, but that doesn’t really go anywhere other than to have her decide to leave at the end.

Let’s not forget that this is also supposed to be the second part of the Black Guardian Trilogy, but he also shows his face at the very beginning and end. Some trilogy…

I don’t want to savage Terminus for the sake of it; it really is just a dreadfully dull story. Nothing happens, there’s no excitement, there’s barely a plot and it just adds bits as it goes along to try to extend it to four episodes.

What do I mean by that? Well there’s the control box of the Garm that suddenly becomes a ‘thing’ during Episode 4, and there’s the dreary attempt at adding drama for the sake of it by suggesting that the universe might get destroyed if they don’t pull a lever. Urgh.

Stephen Gallagher says on the documentary that he doesn’t understand the thinking of Doctor Who fans and he’s given up trying. He says that many don’t like it, but some love it, and to defend that he first of all brings up a Doctor Who fan telling

Believe it or not, this is actually a man. Ooooh isn't he butch.

Believe it or not, this is actually a man. Ooooh isn’t he butch.

him he thought Warriors Gate was the 2001: A Space Odyssey of Doctor Who stories. Now, apart from that not being anything to do with Terminus, I could easily say the same thing about Warriors Gate, and by God I wouldn’t mean that as a compliment. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most wanky, up its own arse films I’ve ever seen, so as far as I’m concerned the comparison to Warriors Gate it valid, but the guy may not have been saying it to him in a nice way.

His other defence was that he was standing in a bar and he overheard someone telling their friend that Terminus was the best example of horror fiction he’d seen in the last 10 years. Does the guy not understand when people are mocking him? Is Terminus even a horror?

So yeah, rubbish story, deluded writer, and thank the Lord that I’ve got past it.

The Fifth Doctor Timeline

Terminus is another story that takes place over the course of a day. Davison really is showing signs of longevity here…

Random Observations

  • Another failure of the writing is the way the travellers end up on Terminus in the first place. Not only is it not adequately explained why the door to Terminus even appears in the TARDIS, but neither is it explained why the Doctor urges Nyssa to go through the door rather than just make her way back to the Control Room. If the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough can get to her room, why can’t she just walk the other way?
  • And the way the Doctor not only manages to get to the room before the door closes but also manages to throw a chair at it at exactly the right speed and angle to jam it in is just silly.
  • From reading books and online opinion it seems as though plenty of men get hot under the collar at the sight of Sarah Sutton in her under-garments. These people need to get out more. As far as I’m concerned, there’s never been a woman who fits the description ‘More is More’ than her. She should keep her clothes on.
  • Terminus is pretty much A Bad Hair Day for all concerned. What the hell is up with the Sparkly Space Pirates, with their white jumpsuits and early 80s big hair? I know this was filmed in the early 80s but that’s not a good enough excuse.
  • And do you realise the camp bloke – who could very much pass as a woman based upon his overall appearance – is wearing make-up? What a fearsome couple they make.
  • The story could have made a lot more of the concept of terminal illness, but just seems to forget about it during Episode Two. Instead it seems to focus more on the illness of the Vanir.
  • I’d be interested to know how Nyssa plans on synthesising unlimited supplies of the Vanir’s drug.
  • Also, and this is a general point for Doctor Who companions, why is it that just because she decides to stay on Terminus, Nyssa can’t be bothered going back to the TARDIS to get her things. She’s clearly picked up some souvenirs in her
    Turlough sums up the viewing experience

    Turlough sums up the viewing experience

    time, and at the very least you’d expect her to want to get some extra clothes? But no.

  • The incidental music is in no way as intrusive as in Mawdryn Undead but it’s still repetitive and irritating. The man responsible – Roger Limb – clearly didn’t think he had to change much from what he served up in Arc of Infinity and Time Flight.
  • All of a sudden “Roundel” is a word the TARDIS crew use. That’s nice.
  • There’s a scene at the start of Episode Three where the woman with the big hair is struggling to get a direct shot at the bloke who is choking the Doctor (you can see I’m interested enough to check their names…). Anyway, rather than aiming and shooting directly at the bloke, she instead – presumably because she worries she might hit the Doctor – decides to take a shot that involves bouncing the ray off a wall and hitting the guy in the head. Aye love, that’s a far safer way of ensuring you don’t hit your friend…
  • Sometimes my  ‘or’ taglines require a bit of thought. Other times they are just obvious. Terminus falls in the latter camp.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #169

Doctor Who – Terminus Review: Final Thoughts

A ranking of #169 for Terminus is taking the piss.

According to Doctor Who fandom, some of the stories apparently worse than this include…

The Happiness Patrol, Colony In Space, Galaxy Four, Four to Doomsday, The Power of Kroll, The Gunfighters, The Web Planet, The Monster of Peladon, The Sensorites, The Creature from the Pit, The Time Monster, Meglos, The Horns of Nimon, The Space Museum, The Dominators, Fear Her, The Underwater Menace and the Space Pirates.

Come on.

Terminus is comfortably one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever produced. It offers nothing. Poorly written and utterly drab, I just cannot see what type of person could honestly say to themselves “Well it’s better than The Gunfighters”.

It doesn’t even fail for being a product of its time that doesn’t translate well into modern culture. It’s not like it uses old hat special effects, the likes of which we saw during Snakedance and Mawdryn Undead.

It’s just shit.

It’s drab, boring shit that fails to muster up anything resembling a storyline or enough for even one of the regular cast to do, let alone all four.

As I said earlier, it’s a shoe-in for being one of my bottom 10 Doctor Who stories of all time.


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11 Responses to Doctor Who – Terminus Review (or ‘Terminally Boring’)

  1. Slavin Ivanov says:

    That butch “man” you write about reminds of a Bulgarian reporter… who is female.
    Great review once again but I guess you can’t wait to see a story you like. 🙂

  2. nickr says:

    Good point – when do you anticipate seeing a story you like? Going on memories of previous viewings?

  3. sgmilne says:

    Without having got to them yet, I can assuredly say I like five of the next nine stories.

  4. nickr says:

    I look forward to finding out which they are…

    • Slavin Ivanov says:

      I think I already know: Enlightenment, The Five Doctors, The Awakening, Resurrection of the Daleks(maybe) and the Caves of Androzani. Prove me wrong! 🙂 🙂

  5. Haydon says:

    This was airing as part of a full repeat of Classic Who that began in 2003, every weeknight as 6pm. As a 10/11/12 year old at the time, I normally wouldn’t miss a single episode if I could avoid it – I remember being out one night when the first part of Genesis of the Daleks was airing, and seeking out the TV at this unfamiliar parents’ friend’s house just to see it. It was unthinkable to me that, when perfectly capable of watching it, I would just… decide not to.

    And yet, with Terminus Part Four, that’s exactly what I did. It was that dull that I couldn’t find it in me to even watch it. For a long time, I considered it the single worst Doctor Who story I’d ever seen. The only reason I changed my mind was because I re-watched Underworld. Still a comfortable second-worst in my mind.

  6. Bill says:

    While I am generally enjoying your reviews after pretty much stumbling accidentally across them, I can’t say I particularly enjoy your shots at “un-masculine” and “effete” men. They come across as rather shallow and unfair.

  7. sgmilne says:

    I apologise if you’ve taken offence to that. I ran a google search and as far as I can see, the only mentions I make of “effete” are in regards to an actor’s general manner and suitability for the role. For example, I just didn’t think that Richard Franklin was a good casting choice for what they wanted Mike Yates to be.

    In this review, yes, I’m a tad shallow in my criticism of the bloke, but it’s more down to the costume choice, hairstyle and makeup. It is camp to be fair.

  8. Aesen says:

    I remember watching this story as a kid, and all I remember was that cliffhanger of “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!”, and it was one of the stupidest things I had ever seen in Doctor Who at the time. Unfortunately I’m doing my own rewatch of the classic series, and I’m not looking forward to when I get around to this story.

  9. sgmilne says:

    I wouldn’t either. It’s definitely bottom 10 stuff, most certainly bottom 5 and with an outside chance of bottom 3

  10. Martin says:

    For years I felt guilty for being so underwhelmed by my Dad getting me this virtually on the day it came out on video and knowing it was a story I didn’t have yet. I never quite told him I didn’t like it though. BUT now I am rewatching Davison in order I think it stands up OK – but really on the level of an adult watching TV and not minding ‘real world’ problems being reflected in that medium. Doctor Who is a family show and I can’t imagine many kids loving this, so overall I would only call it a partial success.
    On another note I think Stephen Gallagher was a pretty decent writer but maybe not one that truly understood Classic Who’s budget limitations, with Warriors’ Gate working so well due to such a wonderful director which didn’t happen here.
    Still, I must say your site is very accessible and I am getting through your articles quickly!

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