This story is infamously remembered for the moment when Nyssa decided to take her clothes off for no readily apparent reason. For those wondering how this escaped the watershed, I should perhaps point out that she was still wearing an underlayer that by present standards is moderately modest, but it says a lot about the rest of the serial that this is the talking point most fans take away. (For the record, as Sarah Sutton knew it was her last story and had heard of complaints from fans that she’d been too well covered up, this was her response. Misogyny is sadly timeless)
Which is a pity – because episode one sets up the story fantastically well. Turlough, having joined the TARDIS crew in the previous serial Mawdryn Undead is urged by the Black Guardian to sabotage the TARDIS and bring about the death of the Doctor. Instead of which, the ship ends up attaching itself to a space freighter travelling to Terminus, a space station at the very centre of the universe. The sets and music for Terminus are eerily unsettling, and knowing that you cannot be sure of Turlough’s character or intentions adds to the unfolding drama. You then discover that the shop is transporting humans infected with Lazars’ disease – a kind of plague if you will, with the name making an obvious play-on-words of Leprosy.
I didn’t enjoy it when I watched the VHS, but warmed to it a little when watching the DVD. What changed? Well, I think the second time around I resolved to enjoy the story for what it was, and rather liked what they were trying to do. The execution was indeed somewhat flawed – not least because Tegan and Turlough spend most of the story trapped in an airduct making no contribution to proceedings. There is also sufficient padding that one suspects this would have been a much better story in the modern series, running at a fast paced 45 minutes rather than the slow run of four 25 minute episodes. Nyssa’s farewell is also genuinely poignant and one of the best executed character farewells in the show’s history.
Terminus isn’t bad, but you might well fall asleep during it! It ought to have been gripping from start to finish; Turlough deserved more than one opportunity to kill the Doctor, and a much better wrestling with his conscience than chatting to Tegan in an airduct; there didn’t appear to be any need for the space pirates who serve no other purpose than to replace Tegan and Turlough and explain what Lazar’s disease is; and Valentine Dyall is shamefully underused as the Black Guardian. That is the difference between the Terminus being ranked 121, and the higher rank it otherwise would have richly deserved.