I dislike it when alien cultures are portrayed as Ye Olde Earthe, but in the case of State of Decay, at least there is an attempt to justify it. Having been pulled into e-space thousands of years ago by an ancient giant vampire, three human astronauts have become immortal, lords over a village of peasants, their rocket ship towering above them all. Denying knowledge and science under penalty of death, a small group of rebels learns in secret, and then the Doctor arrives to help things along.
There’s a real danger with doing a horror story like this that it will end up being corny. Unfortunately, I think State of Decay suffers in that respect. The vampire lords look and act in a stereotypical vampire fashion, with pale-faced stares and the power to hypnotise mortals. There’s ritual sacrifice yet again (yawn), the imagery is gothic and clichéd, with rubbish-looking bats swooping about. The subplot with the villagers is pretty boring, and newcomer Adric’s part in the story feels like it was written in as an afterthought (and it probably was). At this point, Adric is basically pointless – an irritating character who does nothing of any use. By contrast, Romana and the Doctor’s scenes play out naturally and they have developed a rapport. It’s a shame Romana is caught and has to play the damsel role at the end, but the story is one big cliché anyway.
But the resolution is wonderfully ridiculous, as the Doctor uses the old rocket ship as a gigantic stake through the heart. Some of the imagery is also quite dark, with tubes of blood feeding the vampire, bodies drained of all life, and finally the vampire lords decaying and falling to the floor in a pile of dust. I liked that.
There’s also an attempt to fit a fantastic legend into the story, of how all vampire tales are based on these creatures, which the Time Lords battled many ages ago, destroying them with mighty “bow ships”, until the last of its kind disappeared, never to be seen again (until now). It’s just a story, admittedly, but it sets off the imagination. It’s probably for the best, then, that we don’t get a good glimpse of the creature itself. Just a (rubbish-looking) image on a scanner screen and then a giant hand rising from the ground.
Both this serial and the last have dealt with very similar themes: civilisations that have stagnated or regressed; names that have been changed beyond recognition; or purposes lost to time. Perhaps this is a feature of e-space, but if so, I feel there is more that can be done with it than a vampire story. I’m hoping for something a bit better next. Oh, and drop that kid Adric back home as soon as possible, thanks. Or just leave him anywhere. Or kick him into space. You know, whatever’s quickest.