Philip Hinchcliffe on The Deadly Assassin’s Cliffhanger Controversy

There have been a few controversial moments in Doctor Who’s history but perhaps the most notorious was the cliffhanger ending from episode 3 of the 1976 serial, The Deadly Assassin.

If it hasn’t been burned into your psyche, the climax of the episode saw villain Goth (Bernard Horsfall) attempt to drown the Doctor (Tom Baker) and ended on a freeze frame of the apparently dead hero’s head under the water.

The moment drew the ire of ‘clean-up TV’ campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who complained at the time how the final image had been “left in the minds of the children” for over a week.

However, the finale originally wasn’t as harrowing in it’s original form. Recounting the controversy, Doctor Who’s then producer Philip Hinchcliffe told a BFI screening of the classic story Genesis of the Daleks – held to mark the launch of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 12 on Blu-ray – that ironically, the freeze frame device was actually a device intended to tone the scene down.

Hinchcliffe said:

“We showed that episode to the Head of Series [at the BBC] Bill Slater and I said to him, ‘I think maybe we’ve perhaps held [the Doctor] under the water for too long?’ and Bill agreed.

“There was a conversation with him and [the story’s director] David Maloney and David said, ‘Well, we could shorten it, but I could freeze-frame?’ – actually, I think that made it worse myself.”

Reflecting on Whitehouse’s particular dislike for his era of Doctor Who, Hinchcliffe added:

“She didn’t quite understand that it was a family show and there was a wide age range of audience members…I came under very little pressure at all [from the BBC to tone things down]. There were just one or two scenes that were discussed.”

Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 12 is available to pre-order now from Amazon for £39.99 for release on July 2nd.