The Deadly Assassin

The Deadly Assassin
The horror, the horror!
The horror, the horror!
Season: 14
Episode: 3
Vital statistics
Air date 30 October - 20 November 1976
Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by David Maloney
Episode guide
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The Hand of Fear The Face of Evil
Leave Sauron to me.
A still from the infamous enema scene, which sparked controversy about censorship on Doctor Who.
Four reading this wiki.
The scene that caused all the fuss.
Battling Goth.
The Deadly Assassin DVD.jpg

The Daringly Dangerous Death-Defying Deadly Assassin of Fatal Death (working title: Fuck Canon Then Create More And Bring Back The Master) is the GOAT of all GOATs. It is the best story with the worst title.


The Doomsday Assassin was the third serial of Season 14 and re-introduces the Doctor's archnemesis The Mattress for the first time since Frontier in Space.

It was mostly inspired by the film The Manchurian Candidate and it's one of Robert Holmes' best (and most gruesome, ultimately leading to the end of the First Golden Age).


Straight outta the classic Hinchliffe/Holmes era, this Fourth Doctor story sees the Doctor receiving a premonition and returning to Gallifrey where he is framed for assassinating the President.

It features no companion (not even a talking cabbage). Four drops Sarah Jane off in the previous story The Hand of Fear and meets Leela in the following story The Face of Evil.

The Doctor realises that the Mattress sent him the premonition of the assassination through the Matrix so he enters the Matrix to track the Mattress down. And yes, one of the other Time Lords warns him that if he dies in the virtual world, he will die in the real world as well (though he doesn't call him Neo unfortunately.)

The Doctor enters a series of surreal nightmare episodes, enjoying such spooky imagery as clowns in mirrors buried under sand and eyes appearing in cliffs. He faces off against Chancellor Goth who is eventually revealed to be the deadly assassin in question. There's also an enjoyably violent drowning scene which gave Mary Whitehouse seventeen heart attacks and caused her to cry "Won't somebody please think of the CHILDREN?" loud enough for the whole country to hear.

Where was I? So Goth gets his head bashed in by the Doctor then gets his arse barbecued even worse than River Song when the Mattress overloads the Matrix. The Mattress then fakes his own death so he can open the Eye of Harmony and restart his regeneration cycle. But if he opens the Eye, Gallifrey will be destroyed and a hundred other worlds will be consumed in a chain reaction. Can the Doctor stop him in time?



Despite horrifically dying in a car crash 3 years prior, Roger Delgado insisted on reprising the role of the Master.


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... Robert Holmes.

Other cool shit in The Deadly Assassin:

  • The rule of Time Lords having 12 regenerations was introduced.
  • Both this and The Brain of Morbius were written by Robert Holmes. In The Brain of Morbius, we see the Morbius Doctors. In this story, we learn that Time Lords have 12 regenerations, and that the Doctor's contemporary has finished his last life and is trapped between regenerations. The result is that Robert Holmes seems to think that the Doctor is almost dead and the show is in its final seasons. Indeed, when he later writes the Fifth Doctor's regeneration, the Doctor thinks he's going to die and that he "might" regenerate. Given what happened, most people do indeed wish that the Doctor had died at Androzani.
  • Fuck yeah The Matrix (Gallifrey's massive central computer which stores the combined knowledge of the Time Lords in a virtual reality universe starring Keanu Reeves).
  • We learn more about Time Lords, Gallifrey, Borusa and the Eye of Harmony (all of which gets contradicted by their next respective appearances, which in most cases is The Invasion of Time).
  • The Doctor being drowned freaked out Mary Whitehouse (some crusty old bint who ruined Doctor Who forever in the 70's).
  • Some pretty cool gothic horror imagery and set design.
  • The Master's grandfather clock TARDIS.


Despite a bit of padding, bad special effects and retconning it's dead GOAT.

Retcon backlash

There was a vocal fan backlash against this story from the president of some Doctor Who fanclub at the time IIRC, because it retconned the shit out of the Time Lords and portrayed them as fallible humans instead of the god-like beings they had been in The War Games and The Three Doctors.

All intentional on the part of Robert Holmes, who mentioned to Uncle Terry that he found the Time Lords boring and too much like "perfect beings out of Star Trek." So he used this story to give them more dimension by completely corrupting them.

It ended up working so well that Uncle Terry based all his own future interpretations of the Time Lords on The Deadly Assassin's one, and so did most everyone else it seems, even adopting the Twelve Regeneration limit as undisputed canon, despite it never having been heard of before.

Moral of the story

Can't bone the Holmes.

Although you can probably retcon or contradict him easily enough. This is Doctor Who after all.