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Through the millennia, the Time Lords of Gallifrey led a life of peace and ordered calm, protected against all threats from lesser civilisations by their great power. But this was to change. Suddenly and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history...—The Opening Narration, as read by The Doctor
"Vaporisation without representation is against the constitution!"—The Doctor protests his punishment
Summoned to Gallifrey and with no companion at his side, the Doctor has no sooner arrived than he apparently assassinates the Time Lord President, and is arrested. However, it becomes apparent that this is a plot of the Master's - having used up all his regenerations, the Doctor's Evil Counterpart is a wizened husk and can gain a new set of regenerations if he can get hold of the Presidential regalia: the Sash and Rod of Rassilon are really the keys to the Eye of Harmony, source of Time Lord power.
The Doctor escapes execution by virtue of standing as a Presidential candidate, then enters the virtual reality of The Matrix (no, not that one) to track down the Master, and a deadly chase ensues in the surreal landscape. The Doctor discovers that the Master has been using Chancellor Goth, the leading presidential candidate - Goth is killed, but the Master already has the regalia. The Master begins opening the Eye of Harmony but is stopped by the Doctor and falls into a fissure. The Time Lords elect the Doctor as the new President, but he slips away and absconds, followed shortly afterwards by the Master, whom the Doctor believes to have died.
This serial is important in that it is the first to take place entirely on Gallifrey. In addition, many details of Time Lord society are revealed (the 13 regeneration limit, Rassilon, the political system, swanky Time Lord regalia, etc.), thus answering many of the whys of Who.
This story is best known for having no companions - making it the only pre-1989 one not to feature them. Ultimately this proved the companion's use as The Watson, as it was hard to convey the Doctor's thoughts without someone for him to explain them to, and the post-2005 stories with no regular companions tend to have a guest character filling the role temporarily.
- Agony Beam
- Ambition Is Evil
- BBC Quarry: The inside of Goth's mind, apparently.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Goth shoots the Doctor twice, both with bloody results.
- Blow Gun: Used by the Doctor agains the assassin.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: The Master could easily have killed both the Doctor and Spandrell, but instead merely stuns them so that they can witness his victory.
- Then again, it's the Master.
- Chalk Outline: The President.
- Conspicuously Public Assassination
- Department of Redundancy Department: The title, though varying definitions of whether regeneration constitutes "death" muddles this. Robert Holmes defended his choice of a title by saying that there existed incompetent assassins.
- Depending on the Writer:
- How did the Master end up so charred? The most popular explanations from the EU are that he either tried to regenerate without any lives left, Susan Foreman fought back when he tried to capture her, or a future Master did it to his past self as a result of a Stable Time Loop.
- The Susan Foreman theory also opines that she stole the Master's TARDIS and the one he uses from hereon is actually Goth's TARDIS.
- Didn't Think This Through: The Master is confident that the Sash of Rassilon will protect him from any danger as he opens the Eye of Harmony. As the Doctor then asks, why didn't it protect the President from the Master's sniper rifle?
- Dramatic Irony: The Time Lord authorities make deductions from the Doctor's history that lead them to believe him far more knowledgable than he actually is.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The story suggested that the Master's charred state was the result of him being on his last body. Later stories would show that Time Lords without any regenerations left still look the same.
- Evil Chancellor: Goth.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Runcible's impalement.
- Fire-Forged Friends: The Doctor with Spandrell and Engin. By the end, they're sad to see him go and offer to use their influence to allow him to stay on Gallifrey but he politely declines.
- Forgot About His Powers: Despite the crux of the story being the Master wanting to get more regenerations, none of the Time Lords killed in this story are seen to regenerate. Some cases are forgivable, but others really stand out.
- Fun with Acronyms: The Celestial Intervention Agency.
"I think he's ruthless and determined; a typical CIA agent."
- The Greatest Story Never Told: At the end, Borusa covers up the truth of the incident, giving Goth a Historical Hero Upgrade and editing out the Doctor's role in things. The Doctor is not totally pleased but understands that it's for the best and is happy to resume his travels.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: Lampshaded by Spandrell's criticisms of Commander Hilred for allowing the Doctor to escape:
Spandrell: Well done, Hilred. An antiquated capsule, for which you get adequate early warning, transducts on the very steps of the Capital. You are warned that the occupant is a known criminal, therefore you allow him to escape and conceal himself in a building a mere 53 stories high. A clever stratagem, Hildred. You're trying to confuse him, I take it?
- Innocuously Important Episode: At the time, this story was just an experiment to see if the Doctor could function without The Watson. But it also established:
- Rassilon and his various artefacts.
- The Time Lord Matrix.
- It was the first time that the Doctor's old teacher, Borusa, was seen.
- Without a doubt its longest lasting impact was the establishment that a Time Lord has twelve regenerations, giving them thirteen lives overall. It also showed that there exist ways to get new regenerations.
- Loophole Abuse: The Doctor is accused of killing the President of Gallifrey, the punishment for which is execution. However, the president had not named a successor before he was killed so an election must be held. So to put off his execution long enough to figure out what's really going on, the Doctor invokes some obscure law that lets him submit himself as a candidate so the Time Lords can't execute him until after the election.
- The Master: Is a decaying husk of a Time Lord.
- Monster Clown: A brief (but memorable) glimpse in the Matrix.
- Name's the Same: No, not that virtual reality called the Matrix...
- Nice Hat: The Time Lord's iconic headpieces debut in this serial.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: Even literally decaying, the Master is ".. not nearly so infirm as I look."
- Oh Crap: The Master's response to the Doctor's Armor-Piercing Question.
- Opening Monologue: Not used again until the TV movie.
- Opening Scroll: The only story in the series to use one.
- Out of Character Alert: As the Doctor reflects on, the Master would never quietly accept that he's out of regenerations.
- Out of Continues: The Master has used up all twelve of his regenerations and his thirteenth body is nearing its end.
- Pinch Me: The Doctor is able to avoid Goth's traps in the Matrix by denying that they exist.
- Platonic Cave: The Matrix.
- Propaganda Machine
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Though it takes a while for it to show, Spandrell is ultimately this.
- Resistance Is Futile: The Master says this verbatim.
- Something Completely Different: This is the Doctor's only solo story with no companion in tow. This was ultimately deemed unsustainable in the long run.
- Space Age Stasis: The Time Lords, long touted as the Higher-Tech Species, fall victim to this. They don't even know that the ceremonial artifacts are in fact Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology, let alone how to use them. When Engin tries to show off the Matrix to the Doctor and how it would be impossible for anyone to hack, the Doctor scoffs, noting that he's seen worlds where the APC Net and its exitonic circuitry would be considered "prehistoric junk."
- Technicolor Toxin: In the Matrix sequence, the poison Goth pours into the only source of drinking water is green.
- Off-the-Shelf FX: In fact, it looks very much like green food colouring, still in its original bottle.
- Those Two Guys: Spandrell and Engin.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Time runs more quickly in the Matrix. The Doctor's adventures take up an episode and a half; to the Time Lords watching, it takes about four minutes.
- You Look Familiar: Chancellor Goth is played by Bernard Horsfall, who also played the Time Lord who sentenced the Doctor to exile in "The War Games". The Doctor Who Expanded Universe eventually declared them to be the same character, but he wasn't cast with this in mind.