Last time we looked at some different kinds of cliffhanger endings used in the Fourth Doctor era: the good old monster reveal, some threats to the Doctor or his companion, and some throwbacks to the Hartnell and Troughton eras. As one might predict, there are also plenty of throwbacks to the Pertwee years. One thing that the Third Doctor stories used to love to do was finish an episode with the Doctor seconds from some kind of violent death. That of course fits in well with the Hinchcliffe era in particular, so we have the Doctor about to be beheaded in The Masque of Mandragora, about to be hit by a train and later being drowned by Goth in The Deadly Assassin, and about to be strangled by V4 in The Robots of Death.
Post-Hinchcliffe, these kinds of cliffhangers tend to be less imaginative. In two successive stories we have the Doctor getting gassed to provide a cliffhanger ending (The Sun Makers and Underworld), but in Tom’s final season we get some better examples, with the suit of armour coming to life and raising an axe to strike the Doctor in Warriors’ Gate, and then the shrinking TARDIS presumably about to crush the Doctor to death in Logopolis, for all we know.
A variation on the theme, and also a clear throwback to the Pertwee era, is somebody pulling a gun on the Doctor. During the UNIT era this happened regularly, but it still occurs from time to time during Tom’s stories, although the guns are generally space guns, such as Soldeed brandishing his staff in the Doctor’s face at the end of the third episode of The Horns of Nimon. Slightly more prosaic is the Graff ordering his guards to execute the Doctor at the end of the second episode of The Ribos Operation.
More fun is when the danger doesn’t come from an outside source, but instead is as a result of one of the Doctor’s friends being an imbecile. As we all know, “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile”, as he demonstrates in Revenge of the Cybermen when he tries to undo the Doctor’s buckle, which we know will set off a bomb. The Armageddon Factor again finds the Doctor in the company of an imbecilic friend, when Drax uses his shrink ray on the Doctor.
So the Doctor is frequently placed in danger by one means or another, but what happens when this is taken a step further? Well, we get a cliffhanger where some kind of damage has already been done to the Doctor. Normally this only happens when the Doctor regenerates, but the Tom Baker era finds ways to do this a little more often. There are two of these in The Leisure Hive, firstly with the Doctor’s body apparently ripped apart, and secondly when a dramatically aged Doctor steps out of the TRG cabinet. This kind of cliffhanger can also be used for companions as well as the Doctor, so in Full Circle a spider bursts out of a fruit and bites Romana. Note how most of the inventiveness in terms of cliffhangers can be found at the beginning and end of the Tom Baker years.
Speaking of which… I mentioned last time about a big innovation in cliffhangers during the Hinchliffe stories, and it will come as little surprise when I term that new idea “the moment of horror”. Have a look at these:
- The Ark in Space 2: Noah’s bubblewrap arm horror.
- Genesis of the Daleks 5: the Dalek mutant wrapped around the Doctor’s neck.
- Pyramids of Mars 1: Marcus kills Namin and brings Sutekh’s “gift of death”.
- The Android Invasion 2: Sarah’s face falls off.
- The Brain of Morbius: all the cliffhangers!
- The Seeds of Doom 1: the partially converted Winlett attacks Moberly.
- The Hand of Fear 1: the hand comes to life.
- The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Leela unmasks Greel to reveal his melted face.
Note that these are not just confined to monster reveals, Doctor/danger and companion/danger. They can be all of those things, but they work just as well without. Sometimes a traditional monster reveal cliffhanger becomes a moment of horror simply because of the way it is shot by the director, such as the close up on the Kraal’s eye in The Android Invasion, or the POV shot of a Zygon menacing Sarah in Terror of the Zygons. The horror can also be psychological, such as Xoanon screaming “who am I?” in The Face of Evil. After the Hinchcliffe era the moment-of-horror cliffhanger fades away, with really the only other notable example being the death of Kerensky in City of Death. Logopolis has an attempt that falls flat, with the miniaturised dead bodies of Aunt Vanessa and the policeman, all too obviously just dolls.
So post-Hinchcliffe, does the Tom Baker era become formulaic in terms of cliffhangers? Not quite. We get plenty of cliffhangers that strongly pose the question “what will happen next?” often with the Doctor doing something odd or having some kind of a plan. So, in The Invisible Enemy an episode ends with the mini-clones of the Doctor and Leela injected into the Doctor. In The Invasion of Time, we have the Doctor allowing the Vardans onto Gallifrey. That one is really asking “what on earth is the Doctor up to?” Shada does that by accident, when the Doctor seems to think he is a lot thinner than he appears, trying to squeeze under a gate to escape from the sphere. Of course, the ultimate example of the what-happens-next cliffhanger is in Logopolis, with the Doctor teaming up with the Master to save the universe.
But before that prepared-for moment of ending, let’s just acknowledge one final category of cliffhanger that the Tom Baker era gives us, which has its roots in the silliness of the mid-Fourth Doctor era stories: those glorious episode endings when somebody laughs like a maniac.
- The Invasion of Time: the Doctor laughs at his secret sneaky plan hahahaha!
- The Stones of Blood: Vivien traps the Doctor in hyperspace forever bwahahahahaha!
- The Armageddon Factor: the Shadow says the Key to Time is his! Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!
What a great way to end an episode. See you next time! Hahahahahahahaha! RP