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"The innocent to the slaughter..."
―The Master
The Deadly Assassin
Series: Doctor Who - TV Stories
Season Number: Season 14
Story Number: 88
Doctor: Fourth Doctor
Enemy: The Master
Setting: Gallifrey: Rassilon Era
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Broadcast: 30th October - 20th November 1976
Format: 4 25-minute episodes
Previous Story: The Hand of Fear
Following Story: The Face of Evil



"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…"


Part One

En route to Gallifrey in answer to the Time Lords' summons, the Doctor is struck with a premonition in which he appears to assassinate the Time Lord President from a gallery overlooking the Panopticon.

The TARDIS lands in the security area of the Citadel, and Commander Hilred immediately impounds it and orders the arrest of its owner. The Doctor leaves a note on the console warning them of his premonition, and manages to sneak out of TARDIS into the Citadel. He is cornered by a guard, who then is shot dead by an unknown assailant.

The arrival of an unregistered TARDIS in a high-security area increases the tension on an already tense day - the President is resigning, and is about to name his successor. The Castellan Spandrell berates Hildred for his incompetence at letting the Doctor, a renegade who apparently is also a murderer, run loose in the Capital.

Hildred transducts the TARDIS into the Capital, unaware that the Doctor has secreted back on board. Meanwhile, his moves are being monitored by a dark, robed figure and an unknown associate.

The Doctor infiltrates the resignation announcement by stealing a Time Lord's ceremonial robes. While trying to remain incognito in the crowded floor he encounters an old classmate, Runcible, now a newscaster, preparing his broadcast from the Panopticon floor. Runcible greets him coolly while waiting for a signal from a camera operator in the gallery. The Doctor looks up and is horrified to see a staser rifle fixed to the railing near the unattended camera. He causes a commotion as he charges through the room.

As the President enters and stands at the dais, the Doctor grabs the staser rifle. He aims and fires, and the President falls down dead.

Part Two

The Doctor is quickly apprehended by security. The assassination has thrown Gallifrey into a Constitutional crisis, as the President had yet to name his successor. Chancellor Goth, thought to have been the most likely successor, calls for prompt elections and opts to stand as a candidate. Goth also urges the Doctor's swift trial and execution.

At the trial, Goth's prosecution moves swiftly. The Doctor, however, invokes Article Seventeen of the Gallifreyan Constitution, naming himself as a candidate for President who thereby cannot be denied the right to make his claim. Goth is outraged, but Chancellor Borusa (the Doctor's former teacher at the Academy) acknowledges that the Article does give him protection. He is grudgingly given twenty-four hours to prove his innocence.

The robed figure is informed of the Doctor's use of the constitutional loophole by his associate. He had anticipated this. We see that the figure is a horribly disfigured and decaying husk.

The Doctor attempts to convince Spandrell and Coordinator Engin of his innocence; his shot was intended for the actual assassin standing in the crowd on the Panopticon floor, and someone is going through great lengths to frame him. He notes that the sights had been fixed on the rifle to intentionally throw off his aim. Spandrell confirms this by aiming at a target himself, and begins to believe the Doctor. They find the Doctor's original blast mark on the wall. The Doctor realizes that the gallery camera would have recorded the actual assassin. Runcible goes to fetch the recording disc from the camera, but screams with horror when he looks into the camera barrel, and is murdered by an unseen person. Running up to the gallery, they find the camera barrel empty except for the miniaturized corpse of the cameraman. The Doctor recognizes this as the work of his arch enemy, the Master, and reasons that he brought him to Gallifrey for a final showdown.

Spandrell and Engin cannot comprehend why there is no bio data extract for the Master in the APC Net (aka the Matrix), a network of past and present Time Lord minds that acts as an enormous database and future forecaster. The Doctor decides that there must be an unauthorized second access point into the Matrix, and that the Master had used this to forecast the assassination into his mind, and then wipe all trace from the Matrix. He reasons that either the Master or the assassin working with him must be inside the Matrix, so despite the stern warning from Spandrell, he interfaces with the Matrix to find him.

The Doctor finds himself in a vast, rapidly shifting terrain, the domain of the assassin. The two engage in a pitched battle of wills, the assassin possessing the definite advantage of having created the virtual reality world inside the Matrix.

Part Three

The Doctor manages to evade the various pitfalls laid for him inside the Matrix, though his physical body (still in Spandrel's office) is enduring terrible and potentially lethal strain. Meanwhile, the assassin is finding the battle of wills extremely taxing as well. The Master increases the power, despite the assassin's plea that it would kill him. In the Matrix, the Doctor manages to gain the upper hand against the assassin, whom is revealed to be Goth. As the world around them erupts in chaos and flames, Goth seizes the Doctor and holds his head underwater, about to drown him.

Part Four

The Doctor throws him off and barely manages to escape from the Matrix. He revives in Spandrell's office, and informs the shocked Castellan of the assassin's identity. They trace the location of their lair, where they find the Master's lifeless body - he appears to have taken his own life. Goth, himself near death, reveals that he was bitter and power-hungry on learning he wasn't to be the President's successor. He had found the dying Master on planet Tersurus, his body at the end of his regeneration cycle, and brought him to Gallifrey to help him fulfill his scheme. However, Goth dies before he can reveal just what the Master's plan was.

Cleared of all charges, the Doctor still has lingering doubts. He wants to know the Master's plan, and doubts that he would accept death so easily. He reasons that the solution lies in the ceremonial relics given to the President upon induction, the Sash and Rod of Rassilon, and researches their links with ancient Gallifreyan mythology.

The Doctor's suspicions are confirmed when the Master is discovered to have faked his death. He steals the Sash and Rod, which are the keys to the Eye of Harmony, the heart of a black hole captured by ancient Time Lord Rassilon and source of Time Lord power. The Master seeks the power of the Eye to restart his regeneration cycle, even though Gallifrey would be destroyed. He uses the Rod to unlock the Eye of Harmony, hidden below the Panopticon floor, and begins to release its energy, which would be channeled through the Sash to rejuvenate him. The Doctor wrestles with him as the ground shakes around them. Before the Master can uncouple the last cable from the Eye, the Doctor pulls him away and he falls through a fissure in the floor. The Doctor reconnects the various cables, bringing the crisis to an end.

Borusa is appalled at the damage; half the Capital city lies in ruins, and countless lives are lost, but he accepts Spandrell's claim that the Doctor's actions prevented further catastrophe. Acknowledging their past relationship as teacher and student, Borusa gives him a grade of 9 out of 10. The Doctor departs in the TARDIS, but Spandrell discovers that the Master has survived and escaped in his own TARDIS.




  • The Doctor's TARDIS is a type 40 protected by a 'double curtain trimonic barrier' which requires a cypher indent key.
  • Goth met the Master on Tersurus.
  • The number of regenerations (12) is established here.
  • Artron energy is mentioned.
  • Borusa has recently become a Cardinal.
  • The Time Lords possess a complete biographical history of the Doctor, and all Time Lords.
  • Rassilon is referenced for the first time.
  • In order to delay his trial, the Doctor places himself in the running for President. (His resulting ascension to the Presidency is touched upon several times in future adventures.)
  • The term Mutter's Spiral is used for the first time as a Time Lord reference for the location of Earth (presumed to refer to the Milky Way Galaxy).
  • The CIA are first referenced here.
  • The Doctor's trial is dated 309906.


Gallifreyan artefacts

Gallifreyan Chapters

  • Prydonians, the 'notoriously devious' sect to whom the Doctor belongs, colour-coded scarlet and orange.
  • Arcalians, who wear green.
  • Patrexes, who wear heliotrope

Story Notes

  • Bernard Horsfall previously played Guilliver in The Mind Robber, one of the Time Lords in The War Games and a Thal Taron in Planet of the Daleks.
  • Roger Murray-Leach reused his symbol from Revenge of the Cybermen as the Seal of Rassilon.
  • Mary Whitehouse complained particularly about the end of Part 3, with the Doctor being drowned, so much so the BBC edited their master tape (the episode was preserved albeit in lower quality in international copies).
  • The story had a working title of The Dangerous Assassin.
  • The title is a tautology - an assassin is, by definition, deadly. This redundancy was used in the spoof The Curse of Fatal Death.
  • This is the first TV story to feature the Doctor without a companion, and the only one to occur during the 1963-89 original series. The 1996 telefilm and revival series would feature the Doctor on occasion collaborating with "one-off" companions (such as Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride), and in Midnight, the Doctor has an adventure by himself, away from his companion. As of the 2008 episode The Next Doctor, the Doctor is travelling alone, but is expected to continue working with one-off companions. All that said, The Deadly Assassin remains unique as the only televised Doctor Who adventure to date in which there is no companion or companion-surrogate at all.
  • This story features an exclusively male cast, except for a female computer voice.
  • This is the first story set entirely on Gallifrey.
  • This is the only story where every character is of the same race (Gallifreyan).
  • This story featured the first use of narration, by Tom Baker which began at the beginning of the first episode;
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...


  • Part 1 - 11.8 million viewers
  • Part 2 - 12.1 million viewers
  • Part 3 - 13.0 million viewers
  • Part 4 - 11.8 million viewers


  • This is the only story to reference the fact that Time Lords get 12 regenerations and 13 lives. Recent interviews with the production team behind the 2005-present revival (including David Tennant in Doctor Who Magazine #415) have made it appear as if the allocation of 13 lives in this story is a piece of minutae unique to this story. In fact, the 13-life limit has been a major plot element of at least two other stories, both of which involve villains attempting to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations: DW: Mawdryn Undead and the 1996 TV movie. Both productions also reference the 13-life limit in dialogue. A more subtle reference to this occurs in DW: The Next Doctor.

Filming Locations

  • Betchworth Quarry, Pebblehill Road, Betchworth, Surrey
  • Wycombe Air Park, Clay Lane, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
  • Royal Alexander and Albert School, Rocky Lane, Merstham, Surrey
  • BBC Television Centre (TC3 and TC8), Shepherd's Bush, London

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • If the Time Lords summoned the Doctor back to Gallifrey, why does no one know who he is? They didn't. The Master and Goth did.
  • Why don't the Time Lords who the Master kills regenerate? The Staser weapons used by the Time Lords are designed to inhibit regeneration.
  • Surely the high-ranking Time Lords are already aware of the Master since the high-council have both warned the Doctor regarding (See Terror of the Autons), and sent the Doctor after (See Colony in Space) him in previous stories. In fact Borusa should know him personally since he must have encountered him while teaching the Doctor, with whom he was also at school. (The Master's biographical data had been purged, he was in control of the Matrix, and he had the Chancellor working on his side. Removing most official records of his existence would not have been difficult. Some individual members of the High Council may or may not have known of him, but it's doubtful that the Castellan would have questioned all of them in the time allotted.)
  • The technology on Gallifrey seems somewhat low-tech for such a powerful race. The capitol has comparable surveillance, security and forensic facilities to Earth in the 1970's. (The Time Lord's policy of isolationism has led to some forms of technological stagnation. Even the Doctor remarks, when discussing the APC, that it would be disregarded as "junk" in some parts of the universe.)
  • It is not explained how the Master discovered the truth about the real uses of the Rod and Sash of Rassilon, etc. when no-one else seems to know. (He did have access to the forgotten depths of the Matrix records when he was stealing the plans for the doomsday weapon. See DW: Colony in Space).
  • How could all the power of the Time Lords devolve from the Eye of Harmony, and none of them be aware of it? When the Doctor said that, he didn't mean that Gallifrey is still powered by the Eye, only that it had been the initial source of power the first Time Lords had used and had since been forgotten.
  • Considering Runcible was only stabbed, and with no extra wound to indicate being stabbed in both hearts, shouldn't he have regenerated? (The Master clearly did not want Runcible left alive, so obviously killed him in such a way that regeneration would not have been an option. He may have inhibited regeneration using something like a staser, or Runcible may simply not have been able to regenerate.)
  • When the president is assassinated, the time lord who the Doctor swapped robes with is in front of the president but when the Doctor sees the assassination in the Tardis the Time Lord is not present.
  • Having established, through Runcible's newscast, that the livery for the Prydonian chapter is the scarlet / orange combination, the costume department takes the curious move of clothing a major Prydonian character - Cardinal Borusa - in the purple robes (which are supposed to belong to the Patrex chapter).
  • Just before the "train attack" in the APC Net, the Doctor's enemy is seen within three different trains, all of which are of too wide a gauge to even fit on the tracks. Indeed, the train that actually runs the Doctor down turns out to be a far smaller vehicle than any of those three, making their (lack of) purpose in the plot very obscure.



For the Doctor:

For the Master:

DVD and Video Releases


  • It was released in episodic format in the UK in October 1991. It was also re-released & remastered for the W H Smith exclusive Time Lord Collection in 2002 with a better quality freeze frame cliffhanger for Episode 3.
  • This story was released in the US March 1989 in edited omnibus format.


  • The DVD was released on 11th May 2009 in the UK.
  • Special Features include;
  • Commentary by Tom Baker, Bernard Horsfall and Philip Hinchcliffe
  • The Matrix Revisited Cast, crew and critics look back at the making of this story, featuring director David Maloney, designer Roger Murray-Leach and the founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, Mary Whitehouse
  • The Gallifreyan Candidate A look at Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate, a major influence on the plot of The Deadly Assassin
  • The Frighten Factor What exactly is Doctor Who's "Frighten Factor"? A diverse panel of experts try to answer the question
  • Radio Times Billings Listings for this story presented in a PDF file [DVD-ROM – PC/Mac]
  • Photo Gallery
  • Coming Soon Trailer
  • Production Information Subtitles
  • Easter Egg



Main article: Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin

External Links

  • BBC - Doctor Who - The Classic Series - Episode Guide: The Deadly Assassin
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide - Detailed Synopsis - The Deadly Assassin
  • Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel) - A Brief History of Time (Travel): The Deadly Assassin
  • The Locations Guide to Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Story Locations - The Deadly Assassin
Season 14
The Masque of Mandragora  • The Hand of Fear  • The Deadly Assassin  • The Face of Evil  • The Robots of Death  • The Talons of Weng-Chiang
The Master - TV Stories
Terror of the Autons  • The Mind of Evil  • The Claws of Axos  • Colony in Space  • The Dæmons  • The Sea Devils  • The Time Monster  • Frontier in Space  • The Deadly Assassin  • The Keeper of Traken  • Logopolis  • Castrovalva  • Time-Flight  • The King's Demons  • The Five Doctors  • Planet of Fire  • The Mark of the Rani  • The Ultimate Foe  • Survival  • Doctor Who: The TV Movie  •
Utopia/ The Sound of Drums/ Last of the Time LordsThe End of Time

This article uses material from the "The Deadly Assassin" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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