Fans will find a wealth of supplemental material on the conception and execution of Assassin on the DVD; Baker, producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, and costar Bernard Horsfeld (the formidable Chancellor Goth) provide a lively commentary track, and all three return for "The Matrix Revisited," a half-hour making-of featurette that traces the serial's inception from Sladen's departure through the controversy sparked over its violent fight scenes. The "Gallifreyan Candidate" featurette is a sluggish comparison of Assassin with its inspiration, The Manchurian Candidate, while "The Frighten Factor" utilizes a vast number of clips from all 10 Doctors' adventures to discuss the scarier aspects of the show. There's also the by-now standard subtitle production notes, photo gallery, and Radio Times listing in PDF format; the Easter Egg-savvy will find BBC 1's preview for Deadly Assassin, which followed the final episode of Hand of Fear. --Paul Gaita
"Assassin" has a lot of unusual qualities. In addition to the solo appearance of the Doc, it is an unusually physical and violent episode, and also sheds some light on the society of the Time Lords and on Doctor's (delinquent) youth on Galifrey.
In this episode, the Master has passed his twelfth and supposedly final regeneration, and is now basically a disgusting animated cadaver. He lures the Doctor back home by planting a vision in his mind of the assassination of the Lord President of Galifrey, but when the Doctor returns to foil the plot, he not only fails but becomes the prime suspect. Scheduled for execution ("Vaporization without representation is tyranny!") he has just twenty-four hours to expose not only the real assassin but discover who is pulling his strings.
Much of the episode takes place in a disturbing 'dream reality' in which the Doctor battles Garth, the Master's homidical power-grasping flunky, who stupidly believes serving the Master will lead to something other than a horrible death. The dream reality is more of a nightmare: part swamp, part quarry, part fog, and all ugly. The final confrontation between the Doctor and Garth in the swamp is graphically violent, at least by "Who" standards, and caused some controversy in Britain when it was first aired. Of course, when the Doctor comes back to reality, he still has the Master to deal with, and this rotting, robe-clad version, unlike the previous (and later) portrayers, has all of the viciousness, egotism, and homididal mania we expect from the character with none of his usual charm or humor. What is it about putrefying while still alive that takes all the spring out of a man's step?
"Assassins" is an enoyable episode, but unusually dark, and its very premise -- having the Doctor operate without a companion -- works against it to a degree. Somehow the show's formula doesn't achieve the right chemistry without this missing element; it helps to have a "fish out of water" for the Doctor to play off of (and rescue), not to mention to divide screen time with. It was an interesting experiment, and helped serve as an interlude between the departure of Sarah with the arrival of Leela, not to mention set up the Master's return in a less decrepit form later on, but I'm glad that during Baker's run at least, one experiment in this direction was enough. Three and a half stars.