After refurbishing his TARDIS, the Doctor allows the time machine to decide its own next stop. It takes him to Artaris, once again in the city of Excelis. But things have changed since the superstitious age the Doctor visited in his previous incarnation: a totalitarian government has taken over, the populace is divided between the elite Inner Party, their Outer Party underlings and a helpless proletariat, history now paints Reeve Maupassant and Lord Grayvorn as heroes, and someone is abducting lower-class citizens and stealing their life energy to power a new race of mindless, brutish cannon-fodder soldiers called meat puppets. This government is locked in a bitter stalemate of a war with another power, and the Inner Party seems content to keep it that way. At the heart of the corrupt Inner Party lies Lord Sutton, a calculating, amoral being who has been waiting for the Doctor for centuries. But the Doctor knows Sutton as Grayvorn – and makes drastic plans to free Artaris from the immortal warlord’s grasp. But will freeing the planet’s people from oppression also mean killing them?
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Anthony Stewart Head (Lord Vaughn Sutton), Ian Collier (Commissar Sallis), Yee Jee Tso (Major Brant), Stuart Piper (Mattias), Alistair Lock (Reeve Cless), Mark Gatiss (Deputy Warden Baris), Penelope McDonald (Jancis), Patricia Leventon (The Mother Superior)
Timeline: after Forty-Five (the Doctor has just remodeled the TARDIS) but before the TV movie
LogBook entry and TheatEar entry by Earl Green
Review: A more traditional Doctor Who than we’ve previously gotten from the Excelis trilogy, Excelis Decays has a dark, fatalistic air about it. And it’s hard to believe from the seamlessly edited recording, but Anthony Stewart Head and Sylvester McCoy never occupied the same studio at the same time – and yet this story gives us the best verbal sparring yet between Head’s character and any of the Doctors. Adding a distinguished air to the proceedings is Ian Collier, last seen/heard as the voice of Omega in 1983’s Arc Of Infinity, as an embittered warrior who realizes that the whole motivation for keeping the war going is crumbling around him.
Yee Jee Tso, who acted briefly alongside McCoy in the 1996 TV movie, returns here and does a nice job with a role that requires him to be cocksure and elegant. It’d be easy to be shown up here by Head, with whom he shares most of his scenes, but Yee Jee Tso holds his own – well, at least until his character is gently dropped out of the narrative.
If nothing else, Excelis Decays proves that perhaps, of all the remaining Doctors, Sylvester McCoy is the one most able to keep a story afloat on his own. He’s traveling companionless in this adventure, but his tendency to talk to himself in fits and starts keeps things flowing and lets us in on his thoughts without resorting to a lot of painfully obvious “Oh, look, that huge green slimy monster is about to eat us!” signposting.
In the end, Excelis proves to be a worthy experiment – changing Doctors, but retaining a fairly constant (if evolving) setting and villain for the Doctor to fight. An interesting concept, well-scripted by some writers with their own unique takes on the series.