Mawdryn Undead

Mawdryn Undead is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was originally broadcast in four twice-weekly parts from February 1 to February 9, 1983. The serial was the first of three loosely connected serials known as the Black Guardian Trilogy, and introduced Mark Strickson as a new companion, Vislor Turlough, as well as reintroducing Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.


A warp ellipse draws the TARDIS off course. The Fifth Doctor's companions are separated from him not in space, but in time, and he has to deal with a treacherous schoolboy named Turlough. But why does the Doctor's old friend the Brigadier not remember him at all?


In 1983, the former Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart teaches mathematics at Brendon Public School, where Turlough is a student. In the aftermath of a car accident in which Turlough and another student take the Brigadier's classic car for a joyride and crash, Turlough is contacted by the sinister Black Guardian, whom the Doctor thwarted during the quest for the Key to Time. Seeking revenge, the Black Guardian offers Turlough transportation off Earth if he will kill the Doctor.

Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa have problems of their own. The TARDIS is caught in a warp ellipse and materialises on board a starliner locked in a perpetual orbit in time and space. Turlough, under the Black Guardian's instructions, transports himself onto the liner from Earth by means of a transmat capsule and encounters the TARDIS crew. The Doctor travels to Earth via transmat, taking Turlough with him, to get rid of the transmat interference that is trapping the TARDIS on the liner. Unfortunately, when the TARDIS tries to materialize on Earth, it vanishes. The Doctor meets the Brigadier at the Brendon school, but is puzzled when his old comrade-in-arms does not remember their time together at first. When the Doctor says he has to find Tegan and his TARDIS, the Brigadier remembers meeting her in 1977. The Doctor realizes that the TARDIS is right there - just six years earlier - and tries to get the Brigadier to remember the events that led to his nervous breakdown in 1977.

In 1977, Tegan and Nyssa encounter the transmat capsule, but inside is an alien-looking humanoid whom they initially believe is the Doctor, horribly injured. Meeting the younger Brigadier, they bring him and the alien back to the starliner, which is actually the prison of a group of alien scientists who had been trying to discover the Time Lord secret of regeneration. As Mawdryn, the leader of the group explains, they only succeeded in trapping themselves in a cycle of perpetual mutation and regeneration and now long for death. When the Doctor finds out that there are two Brigadiers aboard, he has to try to keep the two apart lest the resulting energy discharge prove catastrophic.

Trying to leave in the TARDIS, the Doctor discovers that Tegan and Nyssa have been infected by the same malady as Mawdryn and his compatriots. The only cure, it seems, is to do what Mawdryn demands: the Doctor must give up the energy from his remaining regenerations. Hooking himself up to Mawdryn's apparatus, the Doctor is about to sacrifice himself when the two Brigadiers meet and touch hands, causing a discharge of temporal energy at precisely the right instant. Tegan and Nyssa are cured, the alien scientists succeed in ending their undead existence, and the Doctor remains a Time Lord. The younger Brigadier, however, will not remember his time with the Doctor until they meet again in 1983...

After returning the Brigadiers to their respective time zones, Turlough asks if he can join the Doctor in his travels. The Doctor agrees, apparently not realizing he is taking an assassin into the fold.

Cast notes

  • The original intent of the production team was for the character of Ian Chesterton, one of the original regulars from the series' first two seasons from 1963-1965, to return for a guest appearance in this story, hence the school setting as Chesterton was a science teacher, and the Brigadier's being issued with another TARDIS homing device. However, actor William Russell proved to be unavailable. Some consideration was given to using instead the character of Harry Sullivan, who was a regular in the programme for a season in the mid-1970s, before the return of Lethbridge-Stewart was eventually decided upon.
  • David Collings, who played Mawdryn, also appeared in the Fourth Doctor serials Revenge of the Cybermen as Vorus and The Robots of Death as Poul, and would himself play an alternate Doctor in Big Finish Productions' Doctor Who Unbound audio play, Full Fathom Five.
  • John Nathan Turner felt that Mark Strickson's blond hair didn't stand out well enough from Peter Davison's blond hair. He initially asked Strickson to shave his head, but when Strickson decline, Turner decided that Strickson's hair should be dyed red.


  • All of the stories during Season 20 featured enemies from the Doctor's past. The past enemy for this and the next two serials was the Black Guardian, who last faced the fourth incarnation of the Doctor at the conclusion of the The Key to Time saga in The Armageddon Factor (1979). The Black Guardian Trilogy continues in the following serial, Terminus. It was also the first Fifth Doctor episode to star Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier.
  • During the Brigadier’s flashback he sees Yeti (The Web of Fear), Cybermen (The Invasion), the Second Doctor, the Axons (The Claws of Axos), Daleks, the Third Doctor (Spearhead from Space), the First Doctor (The Three Doctors), the K1 Robot from (Robot), a Zygon (Terror of the Zygons), and the Fourth Doctor. The excerpts from the colour serials were shown in black and white to match the older ones.
  • Mawdryn Undead also makes the first explicit statement in the series that the current Doctor is the fifth incarnation. The Doctor clearly states that he has eight incarnations left after his present one, confirming that there were no earlier incarnations before the televised first, played by William Hartnell.
  • The Doctor cites the "Blinovitch Limitation Effect" (first mentioned in the Third Doctor serial, Day of the Daleks) as the reason for the temporal energy discharge resulting from the meeting of the two Brigadiers. However, the Effect must not apply to Time Lords, or at least can be mitigated, as the Doctor has met his prior incarnations on several occasions.
  • In the fourth episode, the Doctor says he might try to "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow". This phrase is a phrase often associated with the Third Doctor.
  • The Doctor refers to several people that he worked with in UNIT, namely Sergeant Benton, Harry Sullivan, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith and Liz Shaw. In a rare case of an explicit calendar date being applied to the UNIT timeline, the Brigadier indicates that Benton left UNIT in 1979 and became a used car salesman, and that Sullivan had been seconded into doing secret government work at some point prior to 1983. The episode also establishes that the Brigadier left UNIT in 1976 and became a teacher, although the serials The Five Doctors and Battlefield establish that he later reestablished his relationship with the organization. (See UNIT dating controversy.)


  • "Mawdryn Undead" was a replacement for an earlier script, "The Song of the Space Whale", by Pat Mills. That script fell through when Mills and script editor Eric Saward could not agree on certain elements of the story. Instead, Peter Grimwade quickly produced "Mawdryn" to fill the gap in the production schedule and provide the first installment of the "Black Guardian Trilogy".

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Peter Grimwade, was published by Target Books in August 1983.

Broadcast and VHS release

  • This story was released on VHS in November 1992.
  • A DVD release is expected during 2009.


External links


Target novelisation

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