Arriving in Millennius, Ian discovers the dead body of a man lying on the ground. Before he can react, however, a black-gloved assailant knocks Ian unconscious, positions the murder weapon in his hand, and then, setting off an alarm, absconds with the final microcircuit key…
The principle of ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, or the presumption that that people accused of crimes are innocent until proved guilty, is more than just a key tenet of most criminal justice systems: it’s also a fundamental human right, which goes a long way toward explaining the immediate sense of unease—if not downright revulsion—that we feel when we learn that Ian has not only been unfairly accused of killing Eprin, but he will be executed if he cannot prove his innocence in court.
Sentence of Death is a genuinely interesting and compelling story that continues Terry Nation’s meditation on so-called broken, dystopian societies, and the questions of freedom and control of individuals by the state. In the case of Millennius, where the presumption of innocence doesn’t exist and circumstantial evidence is taken at face value without detailed investigation or analysis, the citizenry is controlled, consciously or unconsciously, through fear and intimidation by the state. Putting Ian in the wrong place at the wrong time works nearly perfectly to juxtapose freedoms of 1960s Britain with the city of Millennius operating under its own version of the code Napoléon. Only if Barbara were the defendant would the story be more compelling.
The Doctor is a sight for sore eyes after a two episode absence—doesn’t William Hartnell look refreshed and on excellent form after his two week holiday?—stepping into the role of Ian’s defense attorney with ease. There’s a certain expectation the Doctor will quickly convince the tribunal of Ian’s innocence and secure his immediate release, but it’s not quite so clear-cut as that. This makes sense from a narrative standpoint, but it still comes as a shock when the judges remain unswayed by the testimony and the intrigue, including the unexpected murder of the guardian Aydan, in the courtroom. Ian must still die for the death of Eprim and the theft of the microcircuit key.
Barbara, Susan, Altos, and Sebetha make a good team of amateur investigators, turning to the best weapons of all—books!—to find any legal precedent that might work in Ian’s favor. Nevertheless, it’s their interview with Aydan and his wife Kala that confirms that a conspiracy is unfolding in Millennius, with Ian the perfect scapegoat, although Aydan does seem too easily tricked by Barbara into revealing that he knows more than he’s letting on, and certainly, as Barbara and Susan peek through the couple’s keyhole, Aydan hitting his wife leaves a bitter, uneasy taste in our mouths as viewers.
Unfortunately, however, Sentence of Death suffers from the same problem as The Velvet Web: the story is too broad to be told in an episode and a half, and the themes of crime, punishment, freedom, and control aren’t explored in any real detail. That isn’t to say the story isn’t enjoyable—it is—but it still feels rushed and somewhat awkward, and in a perfect world, it would have been told over three or four parts.
As Ian’s trial plays out in the courtroom, Barbara receives a phone call at the guardian’s desk outside. It’s Susan: she’s been kidnapped by the conspirators. If they reveal the location of the microcircuit key, Susan will be killed…
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Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)