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And so we come to one my least favourite eras of Doctor Who. There are many factors that contribute to this, but it’s not all bad. As ever with Who there are always good things to find; even among the most dire seasons I can almost always find one or two good stories. Although season fifteen does like to challenge that…
One again we’ve reached a bit of a reboot for Doctor Who, as happens every few years when a new producer/script editor/Doctor arrives. In this case it is, firstly, a new producer, in the shape of Graham Williams. I want to say that Williams’ simply didn’t get Who, and wasn’t prepared for the mammoth task that is producing Doctor Who, but that would be a little ingenious. He had conditions given him by the chiefs, primary among them to tone down the horror and violence, to make it more family friendly again. This, in itself, results in a radical shift. The gothic, serious series of the previous three years gives way to a much lighter series, with an emphasis on adventure and humour. The stories are still as good as ever, more or less, but they’re a bit more sci-fi and less gothic horror, with a large chunk of the season taking place in space and/or on alien planets. Which, as ever with Doctor Who, works against the show. Doctor Who has never been very convincing when creating alien worlds, and the latter half of the 1970s has especial problems with creating convincing spaceships. Star Wars came out during the course of this season, and although Doctor Who had always done sci-fi stories, the way in which they do them changes under Williams’ guidance, influence by the success of Star Wars. It’s brave, but ultimately futile as all it does, in my view, is create a very cheap look. The departure of Robert Holmes mid-way through the season doesn’t help. A bit of the gothic horror carries over in such stories of Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl, but it no longer fits the cheaper looking series, with its focus on humour and the ever-expanding influence of Tom Baker on the scripts. In the case of Image of the Fendahl we’re presented with a script that would have fit perfectly in any of the previous three seasons, but here it just feels unbalanced, the visuals never quite matching the potential of the story.
Let’s talk a little about Leela. Now, as I’ve mentioned, I love Leela. I love the idea behind her, the way the characters evolved in her first few stories. But, poor Louise Jameson, all the promise in the concept is totally wasted this season, and she’s left fighting against scripts and a producer/script editor who simply do not understand the character. Unschooled, to Williams and Anthony Read, equates stupid and instinctive, savage. A simple warrior who, for reasons that are purely aesthetic and publicity-centred, remains in her leathers. It’s beyond a shame that neither producer nor script editor understood the character as, after Horror of Fang Rock, she simply ceases to develop. Is there any surprise Jameson chose to leave the show so soon? Although she wanted to return to the stage, I’d wager that if the promise of Leela was followed through, as per the end of the previous season, then Louise Jameson probably would have stayed longer. Alas, it wasn’t and Jameson decided it was time to move on to new things leading to one of the most ridiculous departures – probably the most pointless since Liz vanishes between seasons, and certainly right up there with the casting off of Dodo and then Ben & Polly. The final story of the season was written by producer and script editor, and they can give all the excuses they want, but it would not have taken much to have written in a good exit for Leela, instead of simply tacking it on to the end with no build-up at all. A failure to even try and understand the character results in an awful departure. And, in terms of television narrative, we never see Leela again, although we do hear of her once more, when the Doctor next returns to Gallifrey.
Ah, the Doctor. This is, for me, the beginning of the end of the Fourth Doctor. Gradually, throughout this season, we see the character of the Doctor go through some radical changes. Not due to any creative intention of the production team, but simply because Tom Baker’s personality begins to dwarf those who are, or should be, in control of the series. Baker becomes increasingly more difficult from herein, lacking the respect he had with and for Philip Hinchcliffe, and takes to making judicious alterations to the scripts regardless of the wishes of the writers, directors or producer. And it shows. By the end of the season Baker’s performances is going off the rales. Talking to camera, pushing forward humour, and, in my view, coming close to turning Doctor Who into a science fiction farce.
Oh yes, and this season introduces us to K9. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Personally I’ve never seen the appeal, although it’s hard not have some kind of affection for the little metal mutt, simply because he ends up in the show for a long time. Four years, not counting multiple return appearances. I’d need to check the figures, but I have a feeling he may well be the longest running companion, although it may appear less as he’s often side-lined by the necessity of filming since, as a prop, he’s problematic. I’d agree with Anthony Read in that K9, much like the sonic screwdriver, became something of a plot cheat. Too clever, and too easy a thing to use to get out of danger, instead of forcing creativity on the writer to come up with more interesting alternatives.
So, season fifteen. A very mixed bag. A season that speaks of experimentation as the new producer tries to work out what kind of show he wishes it to be. A season in which the lead actor starts to exert his ownership (mistakenly or not, jury’s still out). A season of cut budget leading to very cheap sets and make-up. It’s not quite an indulgent pantomime yet, but it’s on the way to becoming so, as the producer and script editor begin to lose control and the lead actor takes command, in a way an actor ought never take control.
As such, this season is easy for picking best story.
- The Invisible Enemy
- The Invasion of Time
- Image of the Fendahl
- The Sunmakers
This is a season of endings… The end of arguably the most successful Doctor/Companion dynamic, and the end of the greatest three years of Doctor Who with the departure of Philip Hinchcliffe as producer. But, if it is the end, then why not go out at the height of your powers?
Everything that made season thirteen so great is still in abundance here, although for me this is the lesser season. Yet it contains two of my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories, one of which is usually ranked among the best Doctor Who adventures of all-time in the annual Doctor Who Magazine poll. Despite this, it also contains one of my least favourite stories ever, and three mediocre stories. This all comes down to personal taste, of course, and is not meant to take away from the facts that every single story this season is incredibly well-written, with very high production values and continues to showcase some of the best acting talent of 1970s British television.
For the first time since 1970, Doctor Who steps out of the shadow of UNIT, with its ties to that illustrious organisation severed by the departure of Sarah. The Brigadier and company only got one mention, in Sarah’s goodbye scene, never to be mentioned again until the 1980s. And although so many endings were coming, this season does present us with something new (or at least confirms something that many suspected), when the Doctor and Sarah comes across the ‘secondary’ control room. A Jules Verne style wooden affair. It’s a lovely piece of design work, and fits in so well with Hinchcliffe/Holmes that it’s a pity we only see it this season. If only they had introduced it sooner. The idea of more than one control room is fantastic, and gives us an answer as to why the console room, and indeed the console, has gone through so many changes since the Doctor was exiled to Earth. Perhaps the Third Doctor couldn’t decide which control room he liked and so changed his mind every now and then. Certainly explains the radically different control room seen in The Time Monster.
Hinchcliffe and Holmes worked hard to not trade too much on Doctor Who’s past, even though the stories they constructed alongside their authors often echoed stories and ideas seen through Doctor Who’s then fourteen-year history. The only time the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era featured returning faces was when such things were forced on them, as in season twelve and the returning triumvirate of the Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen. This season is notable for the fact that for the first, and only, time Hinchcliffe and Holmes made the decision to deliberately bring back one of the Doctor’s oldest and most popular enemies. The Master. And with him the Doctor’s first return to Gallifrey since 1969’s The War Games. And what a disaster it is… In fairness, I’m in the minority here, and The Deadly Assassin is a great story, with some really lovely set design, some clever ideas and nice performances. The Master himself is well realised, and they make a virtue of the absence of Roger Delgado who originated the role (but died some years earlier), by showing us a Master at the end of his regenerative cycle; a cadaver clinging on to life, his mind as sharp as ever, but his body a decaying mass. Unfortunately, the society of Time Lords seen in this story is so far from that which we saw in The War Games, and it bothers me. Yes, we have seen many a corrupt Time Lord appear since The War Games (and indeed in that story), and all of those are Time Lords who were exiled, be it by their own choice or by other Time Lords, with a few glimpses at Gallifrey during the Pertwee era, but none of those glimpses went so far from The War Games as The Deadly Assassin does. Here the Time Lords are basically humans doing human things, even to the point of having very mundane television news programmes. There is very little sense of their power, of these beings who have total mastery of time, who can ‘dematerialise’ people from existence with their very minds, who could live forever baring accidents. Now we’re presented with plotting and scheming old men, most of whom seem very absent-minded and obsequious, and all involved in very sub-standard Earth politics, with only a limited number of regenerations. This may make sense in giving the Time Lords a degree of mortality, but it does rather destroy the god-like element they once had. Which is such a shame, as on every other level The Deadly Assassin is a good production.
The Masque of Mandragora, The Hand of Fear and The Face of Evil all feel rather mediocre to me. Again, great productions, very inventive, etc, but they just don’t leave me with a sense of awe and enjoyment as most of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era. They are by no means bad, but they lack the gravity and depth one has come to expect. The Hand of Fear, of course, sees the departure of Sarah, after over three years. It’s interesting that the story is not over-shadowed by her imminent departure, but is rather just a standard Who adventure. And it is pretty standard. There’s nothing that stands out. But the final scenes… Lis Sladen and Tom Baker essentially rewrote the scene themselves, and as a result it’s one of the most underplayed and poignant goodbyes of any companion. Jo’s came close, and none will come as close again within the original twenty-six-year run, with the possible exception of Tegan in 1984, and it pisses over every departure since 2005, except, maybe the departure of Donna in 2008. It has the kind of pathos such a departure deserves. For the first time in possibly forever, the Doctor is saying goodbye to an actual friend. There is an unspoken fondness and love between him and Sarah – nothing sexual, but a deep platonic and mutual feeling. ‘Until we meet again, Sarah,’ the Doctor says, and it’s highly prophetic. The Doctor and Sarah would indeed meet again, several times, and as Sarah whistles Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow you can’t help but smile with the foreknowledge that one day she will indeed own her own special ‘bow-wow’.
The Face of Evil shows us, as did the opening scenes of The Deadly Assassin, just why the Doctor doesn’t travel alone. Some people argue that The Deadly Assassin only supports Tom Baker’s idea that he didn’t need a companion, but I think it proves the opposite. Both it and The Face of Evil show the Doctor talking to himself, or rather the camera, to get across important plot points. It’s awful and takes the viewer out of the narrative, and feels very forced. The Doctor needs someone to spar off, to impart knowledge to, and although any story could supply the Doctor with a one-off companion to fulfil these functions, it would leave each story with clumsy opening scenes. Luckily, Hinchcliffe and Holmes never truly entertained the notion of a companion-less Doctor, and only allowed Tom Baker his head for one story, and so The Face of Evil introduces a new companion in the shape of Leela. A lot of people misunderstand Leela, and think her a simple savage, one who solves things with only violence – this is an unfortunate result of the next season, and the arrival of Hinchcliffe’s successor, Graham Williams (but we’ll come to that in the next rewatch). Under the guidance of Hinchcliffe and Holmes, Leela is a much more complex character than she would first appear. She is undisciplined, uneducated, but she is not simple, not stupid. She is sharp, and like a child, she has an absorbent sponge-like mind. She soaks up every new experience and learns. It’s well-known that the producers had in mind a version of Pygmalion with the Doctor becoming a Professor Higgins character to Leela’s Eliza Doolittle over the following season. You see much of this in the final two stories of this season, but alas it’s an idea which quickly gets dismissed next season.
Which brings me to the final two stories of the season, and the swansong of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes gestalt. I think it’s a fair criticism to say that the story for The Robots of Death is not the strongest ever – indeed, it wears its Agatha Christie influences on its sleeves a little too well, and the ‘whodunnit’ is very easy to work out. However, that’s not important. What is important in the dialogue, the stupendous design work (both the sets and the costumes and make-up), the incredible visualisation of the robots, and the pitch-perfect casting. It is one of those very rare occasions where everything comes together in perfect synthesis. Even today, thirty-eight years on, The Robots of Death looks fresh, fast-paced with every single actor at the top of their game. Even the model work, often a sore point in Who, looks amazing. The Sandminer has real weight, and doesn’t even look like a model. You can honestly believe it’s the vessel in which the adventure takes place. It’s amazing to think the TV series has never returned to the society that produced the Voc robots, or such twisted people as Dask and Borg. I for one would pay to see Toos return, to see what became of D84 and Pool. Sure, we’ve had audios and a novel, but can you imagine how the Voc robots would look with today’s budget? Speaking of budget, Hinchcliffe, knowing that The Talons of Weng-Chiang was the end of the road, spared no expense to go out on a high. And boy, he did it!
Talons is a masterpiece of Doctor Who. Robert Holmes’ script is second to none, rich and inventive, with the kind of dialogue very few could hope to match (although commentators do seem intent to try – not least of all on the DVD text commentary – and end up looking silly as a result). The night filming adds layers of depth to the whole thing, with the kind of splendid costuming the BBC always excelled at when given a Victorian setting. Once again it’s perfectly cast, although it seems that today many people take offence at a white man playing a Chinese character. Such offence is understandable on a level, but one has to consider how television was almost forty years ago. Leading Chinese actors were not in abundance, and it was not uncommon for Caucasian actors to take on Chinese roles. And for this story, only the best kind of actor could stand up to the power house that was Tom Baker. It’s cast perfectly, as I’ve said, regardless of today’s sensibilities. John Bennett is the perfect Li H’sen Chang. Doctor Who does not exist in a vacuum, it will always be a product of its time, and it should be judged accordingly.
Although Robert Holmes would continue as script editor for a while longer, Doctor Who was under fire for the more mature content of the last three years, and as a result when it returned for season fifteen things would be very different. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson would return, but the development of Leela’s character would come to an abrupt halt after only one story, and it would be a long time before Doctor Who reached the heights it achieved while under the stewardship of Philip Hinchcliffe… A very long time indeed.
Which leaves me with my countdown. The top two are too easily chosen, but the four preceding tales are not so easy to order, however at the moment they go something like…
- The Deadly Assassin
- The Hand of Fear
- The Face of Evil
- The Masque of Mandragora
- The Robots of Death
… Which leaves the winner of this season, and 1970s Doctor Who
Possibly the best season of the 1970s, which tells you that I clearly loved season thirteen. It’s the second year of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, no longer in the shadow of the successful team of Letts/Dicks. (With one exception, but that’s Hinchcliffe’s fault for asking Letts to direct and Nation to write a script.) But I digress…
This season brings to the fore all the hints we got in the previous season, with the darker aspects found in such stories as The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks. It starts on a high with the impeccable Terror of the Zygons, the last full bona-fide UNIT story. But this is the UNIT of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, not the ever-cosy family of the Pertwee Era. There’s a different kind of spark between the Fourth Doctor and the Brigadier – a very strong friendship, although it’s very clear the Doctor is, at least initially, sulking at being brought back to Earth by the Brigadier. Throughout this season there’s a definite ongoing acknowledgement that the Doctor is no longer interested in being UNIT’s scientific advisor – it’s explicitly stated in Pyramids of Mars for a start – although he does keep on coming back. Partly this is due to Sarah’s presence, since she made him promise to return her home at the end of Terror of the Zygons, which explains why in Pyramids of Mars they arrived in the correct location, but the wrong time, and why they appear to return to Earth in The Android Invasion. It doesn’t, however, explain why the Doctor was on hand to help out in The Seeds of Doom.
Philip Hinchcliffe has gone to great lengths in interviews to explain that he doesn’t dislike UNIT, and would have been happy to keep on using them once a year, but it seems things worked against him. Certainly Nicholas Courtney’s availability became an issue, so in this season twice he’s replaced by a lesser character while the Brigadier is in Geneva. Intentionally or not, this serves to phase UNIT out. In The Android Invasion the only regular UNIT character is Benton, and Harry, and in The Seeds of Doom there’s not a single UNIT character previously known. It’s a shame in some ways. The Brigadier got a lovely final scene in Terror of the Zygons, although they did not know it would be at the time, but poor Benton doesn’t get a goodbye scene at all in The Android Invasion. The last we see him he’s knocked unconscious and replaced by an android duplicate – he could be dead for all we know. Another character who doesn’t get a goodbye scene is Harry – a companion! If he hadn’t been brought back for a needless role in The Android Invasion, then his final scene in Terror of the Zygons would have served as a lovely send-off (alongside the Brigadier). Alas, nobody knew that The Android Invasion would be the last appearance of either Benton or Harry, and both simply never appear again. No goodbye, no fond farewell.
This is the season that people think of when they talk ‘gothic’. With the exception of The Android Invasion (which is a horrible, although fun, throwback to the Pertwee era), every story this season screams gothic horror, and as a result we have five of the strongest stories ever seen in Doctor Who. Very strong scripts, with cracking dialogue, great performances (some of the best guest stars ever!), interesting direction… the list of accolades goes on. Of course, nothing is perfect, and despite being a very interesting idea and a well directed piece, I find Planet of Evil extremely dull to watch. I can’t place my finger on why, but it’s the one story this season that makes me want to sleep while I watch it. Even The Android Invasion is fun to watch, and it’s easily the weakest script Doctor Who has had in years – insane plot holes, motives that make no sense, over-reliance on coincidences, another self-mining of ideas from Terry Nation, and a direction that is competent and safe, and as such it stands out among one of the best directed seasons ever. But for all that it is great fun to watch. Every actor in the show gives it their best, there’s some wonderful location work, but none of this can hide the glaring plot issues. Still, among such greats as Terror of the Zygons, Pyramids of Mars, Brain of Morbius and The Seeds of Doom it was never going to stand out as a great example of Doctor Who. It would have been at home in seasons ten or eleven, but at this point, it just feels like a mis-step and a redundant throwback to an era well and truly over.
Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen continue to shine, going from strength to strength, developing the closest and most enjoyable Doctor/Companion dynamic since the Second Doctor and Jamie, if not the best yet. When, in The Seeds of Doom, the Doctor says ‘this is Sarah Jane Smith. She’s my best friend’, you do not question it. Arguably for the first time ever, the companion really is a friend. Before us are two people who love each other’s company, and have no intention of splitting up. Alas, all good things must end, and soon it will be ‘time’ for the Doctor and Sarah… But not just yet. Three years and they are going strong.
Now, for the first time since beginning this rewatch I honestly can’t pick a favourite. I’ve tried, but I cannot pick between three titles. Every time I try, I think of another reason why each of them are so damn good. So, these are my least favourites…
- Planet of Evil
- The Android Invasion
- The Brain of Morbius
Which leaves these three as equal best:
A brand new era begins with the arrival of Tom Baker and it is, in my view, one that out stayed its welcome. Even today, ask almost anybody to describe the Doctor and it’s Tom Baker they describe… despite the popularity and presence of David Tennant and Matt Smith, Tom Baker is still widely regarded as the Doctor. I’m not sure if I’d agree, but I do feel that Baker owned the role for so long that he had something of a schizophrenic time, many eras within his era. For me, the best three years of Doctor Who are those produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, and they start with season twelve.
Yet, it takes a little while to feel like the gothic era that epitomises the stories produced by Hinchcliffe and Holmes. This is, largely, due to the ongoing presence of Barry Letts, who, along with Terrance Dicks, commissioned all the scripts for this season (bar The Sontaran Experiment which was commissioned by Holmes). As such they’re the safe kinds of stories one has come to expect from Letts’ stewardship. Fortunately, after Robot, both Hinchcliffe and Holmes exert their influence, Holmes especially, and the scripts begins to take a darker turn, drifting away from the cosiness of the last five years. This is the year that Doctor Who finally does what Letts and Dicks claim was their goal – taking the Doctor from UNIT and back out into the universe. Of course, UNIT’s presence isn’t completely absent, since we pick up where Planet of the Spiders left of, on Earth with the newly regenerated Doctor assisting UNIT. Robot is an odd one, and feels very out of place among season twelve. It’s too much in the Pertwee template, which at the time was probably a good move, a nice way to reassure the kids in the audience that they were still watching the same show, but in hindsight it does mean the new Doctor is lumbered with all his predecessor’s tropes. Not that it is wholly a bad thing, as it’s nice to see the Brigadier deal with the new Doctor, and new kind of relationship develop. UNIT continues to be present throughout the rest of the season, what with the arrival of Surgeon Lieutenant Harry Sullivan, a Royal Navy doctor working with UNIT and assigned to look after the newly regenerated Doctor. Harry joins the Doctor as his first bona-fide male companion since Jamie almost six years earlier (and, will prove to be the last male companion until 1983).
Harry’s great. The trio of the Doctor, Sarah and Harry is probably the best TARDIS-team since the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki way back in season two. It’s good fun watching the Doctor and his endless exasperation at Harry, who is a man clearly out of his depth, but nonetheless throws himself totally into the adventure. It’s clear the Doctor actually likes Harry a lot, and is, for the most part, simply teasing him. Harry and Sarah and brilliant together too; Harry the ever-protective gentleman, and Sarah the seasoned traveller who doesn’t really need looking after. They develop a very deep and caring relationship over the course of their adventures together, and it very nice to see Sarah bemused by Harry’s inexperience and almost-constant state of wonder. And, of course, this season sows the seeds of what will become one of the greatest Doctor-companion dynamics ever. It takes Sarah a little while to warm to the new Doctor, but they’re soon building a very strong friendship. And yes, it is a real friendship, much like the relationship the Doctor once enjoyed with Jamie. It’s not often, in the series original run, that you got a sense the Doctor and his companions were actual friends. More often than not the companion was the unwilling traveller, dragged around in time and space by a man they liked and admired, clinging on for dear life in the threat of continuous danger. But in Sarah and the Fourth Doctor you get a real friendship. It’s not fully developed this season, but certainly by the time they reach Skaro Sarah feels comfortable enough to question the Doctor on his mission to destroy the Daleks, to challenge him.
Another rare thing is evident in this season, back to back adventures featuring some of the Doctor’s greatest enemies. In quick succession we get Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen. By time we get to Revenge of the Cybermen you start to wonder if they’ll meet Ice Warriors next, or maybe the Master. At this point in the show’s history they really are the only recurring ‘top ten’ monsters missing from the season. Again, it was a decision made by Letts to help ease the new Doctor in, and reassure the younger audience. And it makes sense. Although it does, unfortunately, prevent Hinchcliffe from really making his mark on the show. It’s notable that, after this season, during the rest of Hinchcliffe’s time on the show, we only see one old enemy return, and even then he’s very different from how he was in the Letts’ era. Something else that makes this season quite unique for ‘70s Who; every story leads into the next. Robot picks up from the exact moment that Planet of Spiders ended, with The Ark in Space following on from Harry’s blundering into the TARDIS at the end of Robot. Following this we see the Doctor, Sarah and Harry travel by transmat from Space Station Nerva to Earth in The Sontaran Experiment, and then the same transmat beam being intercepted by the Time Lords while they’re en route from Earth back to Nerva in Genesis of the Daleks. The time ring given to the Doctor by the Time Lords takes him to the early days of Nerva in Revenge of the Cybermen, and even that ends with the Doctor receiving a message from the Brigadier – which then leads into the season thirteen opener. It’s a wonderful narrative flow that hasn’t been seen on Who since season two, when every episode had individual titles and the viewers never knew for sure when one adventure would end and lead into the next. Such ongoing narrative won’t be seen again until seasons sixteen and eighteen, and, in a small part, through some of season twenty. And then, not again, until 2005 and the first series of Nu Who.
Season twelve really is a nice collection of stories, a season of transition, where even the weakest stories have much to offer – even though it is the shortest season of Who thus far! Robot is easily the odd-one out, basically being a Pertwee story with Tom Baker in the role. But from The Ark in Space we move into new territory, with a lot of clever stories and some really challenging ones. Although not quite the gothic series it will soon become, there are touches of real horror in this season. Choosing a favourite is no easy task, after all this season contains Genesis of the Daleks, by far the best Terry Nation Dalek story since the very first one back in ’63 (although it’s a point of fact that it was quite heavily rewritten by Robert Holmes, which accounts for its darker tones), and probably the best directed Dalek serial in the entire original run. The Ark in Space is a very taught story, especially the first episode. It really is hard to choose, so I’m going to go purely for nostalgia once again, and pick one of the most watched Tom Baker stories ever – one I’ve owned at least three times, twice on video and once on DVD…
- The Sontaran Experiment
- The Ark in Space
- Genesis of the Daleks
Season eleven… Such a breath of fresh air. And just in time, too. It’s the end of an era – an era that had two beginnings, and quickly settled into something very cosy and safe. Yet, back in the early ‘70s, an era that was incredibly popular. Alas, all good things come to an end, and now Jon Pertwee plays his final game…
As mentioned in my previous re-watch entry, I’ve been finding the Pertwee years becoming way too safe, and consequently predictable. UNIT, the solid ‘family’ of which the Third Doctor became a part, has slowly been relegated to guest spots, to open and close the seasons, as the producers finally do what they claim they always wanted to do, and that is get the Doctor off Earth again – or at least travelling in time. Arguably, this didn’t happen as quickly as people seem to remember. But with the departure of Jo, it seems that the Doctor’s ties to UNIT are being severed even more. The Doctor has even less reason to stay on Earth, yet as the season opens for some reason on Earth is where we find him. Perhaps this is due to his friendship with the Brigadier? Curiously, though, for the first time since Pertwee took over, this season opens with a story in which UNIT only makes a passing appearance, and the Brigadier only a handful of scenes. And you know what, I found I didn’t mind.
This is in no small part due to the arrival of the Doctor’s new companion – a real mould-breaker, in the shape of Sarah Jane Smith, or Sarah as she is more commonly known (or was, at least, during the original series run). Sarah is without doubt the most well-known Doctor Who companion, especially now after the hit spin-off TV show of recent years, and it’s not without reason. From the moment Elisabeth Sladen walks on set, it’s obvious a whole new kind of dynamic is about to be enjoyed. And what a dynamic! From the off, Sarah comes across as a strong character, a young woman (23 years old, during this season) with her own mind and, more importantly, her own career. And that’s another triumph of Sarah – especially this season. In her first appearance we see her working – under cover to get a story for her magazine, and each time she returns to Earth she’s soon working again, using her contacts and looking for a good story. It’s also great the way they gradually develop her view on aliens. In Death to the Daleks she’s almost bemused by the Daleks, and doesn’t at first see how they can be a threat, and yet is initially terrified by the Exxilons, and later remains uncomfortable with the loveable Bellal. This continues in The Monster of Peladon, but I think by the end of that serial she’s getting used to it. Until she encounters giants spiders, that is! It’s a nice bit of character development, and a perfectly natural reaction for someone with such a strong sense of self when taken out of their comfort zone. All this just adds a nice sense of freshness to season eleven.
It still feels a bit cosy and safe, but with Yates’ betrayal in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, the cosiness of the Pertwee era is slowly being broken down. In some ways it’s a pity it never happened sooner, but I’m glad it happens now. Better late than never, and for Pertwee’s season, it really makes a difference. It’s obvious, at times, that Pertwee is tired of playing the Doctor now, although he never fails to give his best, never more evident than in the one-to-one scenes he has with Lis Sladen, and especially noticeable in the scenes with K’ampo in Planet of Spiders. There also seems to be a special softness is Pertwee’s performance during scenes between the Doctor and the Brigadier — possibly because Nick Courtney is the only one left from Pertwee’s ‘company’? (Other than John Levene’s Benton and, in a lesser part, Richard Franklin’s Yates.)
There’s a nice sense of ‘looking back’ throughout this season, which I find rather touching and apt. In so many ways this season is about celebrating the five years that Pertwee had been in the role. Making sure he went out on a high. Invasion of the Dinosaurs harkens back to The Green Death with Yates’ betrayal, and The Monster of Peladon is, I believe, the first actual direct sequel Doctor Who has ever done. Loads of follow ups, with return monsters, but never before has Doctor Who returned to the same alien world, featured the same characters, and off-spring of previous characters. It’s a very rare thing, and honestly works on every level. The biggest ‘look back’ is the finale – Planet of the Spiders is replete with winks to the last five years, full of actors who have already appeared in a Third Doctor adventure, and a very plot-centric follow-up to Jo’s departure – another first for the show, since never before has the previous companion’s story been followed up in such a concrete way. There have been mentions of previous companions before, usually just after they leave, but here we actually learn something of what happens to Jo after she got married and started her trip down the Amazon. Not only that, but this information, and the blue crystal she returns to the Doctor via post, is a key element of the season finale.
And that was not the only first this season. It seems to be a season of firsts, where Doctor Who history is made in small but important ways. Arguably, the most importantly was in The Time Warrior when, for the first time, the Time Lord’s planet is named; Gallifrey. Strange that such an iconic moment happens in a story totally unrelated to the Time Lords. Later in the season, two more little bits of Doctor Who history are made when in Planet of Spiders the word ‘regeneration’ is first used to explain the life-extending trick of the Time Lords – their ability to change their bodies when they become too old or are dying. Up until this point, in fact, there has been no evidence that it is something particular to Time Lords in general, or just something the Doctor can do. But seeing K’ampo regenerate pretty much seals that up. In the same story we also, finally, after six years, learn the Brigadier’s first name; Alistair (although spelt ‘Alastair’ in the script — which makes one wonder when it became officially ‘Alistair’?). It’s a small moment, not even commented upon, but it comes about in a very sweet scene, a moment of genuine friendship between the Doctor and the Brigadier when an old romance of the Brigadier’s is revealed in the brief tale of Doris and he at Brighton several years earlier.
It’s very hard to choose a favourite this season, since they are all very good stories. Even Terry Nation’s Death to the Daleks is good – a vast improvement on his previous Dalek story, although still a bit of a greatest-hits of ideas. In this case though it’s the guests performances, the chemistry of the Doctor and Sarah, and the introduction of the Exxilons, that rises it above Nation’s usual fare. Plus, it was one of the very first Third Doctor stories I saw on VHS way back when, so I can’t deny it has a certain nostalgic value – and nostalgia can cover a multitude of sins.
Thus, in order of least favourite, since I don’t have a worst this season;
- Death to the Daleks
- Planet of the Spiders
- The Time Warrior
- Invasion of the Dinosaurs
Which makes the winner, this season:
Which may seem an odd thing to say, as I’m obviously typing this, but honestly, I’m finally at a point in Doctor Who where I am a living person. Only two months old, mind, when episode one of The Three Doctors was transmitted, but alive nonetheless! Woo! So, onto the review… Um. First of all, despite all protestations to the contrary, The Three Doctors is not the tenth anniversary story. For one thing it began transmission just under a year before the tenth anniversary, and season ten itself finished transmitting a good five months before the anniversary. If anything, it’s a celebration of nine years. Sorry, but it is. Who celebrates a birthday eleven months early?
I do feel that, from last seasons The Mutants, the Third Doctor era starts to fall apart. Both that and The Time Monster are not especially good, both looking tired and cheap. And such a lacklustre sense of phoning things in pervades season ten. The only real exceptions are the season opener and finale. The Three Doctors is a fun romp, despite the Brigadier being very out of character in it, with some great performances and the triumphant return of Patrick Troughton. A real shame William Hartnell was so ill during filming, as his presence is almost painful to watch, and only adds a sense of depression to the whole thing. And the season finale, The Green Death, is the best example of a UNIT story. It features some of the best Brigadier moments, and seeing him out of uniform and calling both the Doctor and Jo ‘friends’ is wonderful. He really suits the more personable side of the character, and it is a shame we see so little of his private life within the series. The glimpses show a very nice guy, very down to Earth, the kind of man who prefers a pint and is more than happy to kip at a pub. And he smokes! Albeit only a cigar, but it shows an interesting aspect of the man we so rarely see. And, of course, The Green Death is where we say goodbye to Jo. She’s been a wonderful companion — her relationship with the Doctor has been sweet, touching, and a joy to watch. Their final scene together is supremely sad, and both Katy Manning and Jon Pertwee play it for everything its worth. Every Doctor has his companion, the one who will always be associated with him above all others, and for the Third Doctor it will always be Jo.
As for the rest of the season. Well, Frontier in Space is good, albeit with a very simplistic, almost childish, view on politics. But for all that, it’s a nice ‘space opera’, that sets up a truly epic return for the Daleks, as they, through the Master, manipulate a massive space war between the two biggest interstellar powers — Earth and Draconia. Which leads into Planet of the Daleks — a very drab piece of Doctor Who that recycles almost all the best elements from Terry Nation’s previous Dalek stories of the ’60s. I’ve had a long discussion on Facebook about this story, and I still don’t understand what went wrong. There is so little correlation between it and Frontier in Space, which goes to such lengths to set up the threat of the Daleks and their plan. All of which is pointlessly side-stepped throughout Planet of the Daleks, with only one mention of the space war, and even then the reason is very different from that established in the previous story. And the worst thing is, there really is no reason for it. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks oversaw both stories, and they had to okay Nation’s scripts, so who is to blame for the lack of flow and continuity between stories? Blame to share, I think. Not to say there isn’t some good material in Planet of the Daleks, but it just feels very tired as a story, a re-run of many 1960s Dalek stories.
Only story I’ve not mentioned is Carnival of Monsters. Other than the stuff on SS Bernice, and the Drashigs, there is nothing, in my opinion, to recommend it. Awful, tired, boring and so very dull.
At this point, Jon Pertwee is the longest running Doctor. Which should be cause for celebration, except this season, for the most part, feels very tired. Some fresh blood is needed. Throughout the ’60s Doctor Who continued to feel fresh, even if not always good, because the regular cast and the production crew changed almost every year (of course, the Doctor remained, but with companions coming and going, the dynamic of the lead character continued to be invigorated). As a result, not only are the character dynamics kept fresh, but there remained a sense of change, of trying something new — taking a lot of creative risks. So far, we’ve almost had half a decade of the ’70s and, with the exception of the opening volley of season seven, it’s been run by the same people. And ideas and freshness is beginning to dry up. Doctor Who has, at this point, become too cosy, too safe. The character dynamics don’t really change, there’s no real creative risks. Letts and Dicks have found a formula that works, and they stick to it. Which is fine, and the fact is the Third Doctor remained consistently popular throughout his five years. So, clearly, the show was doing something right. At the time. But looking back, re-watching the series as a whole, the cosiness of the Third Doctor era works against the show.
Thus, my run down goes like this:
- Carnival of Monsters
- Planet of the Daleks
- The Three Doctors
- Frontier in Space
… making the winner, but a large margin
Season nine, it starts of very well. And, for the first time since the Third Doctor appeared, it feels like a follow on from the previous season, instead of another slight reboot. Although this feeling doesn’t last very long…
I think the problem with this season, if indeed it is a problem, is the lack of UNIT. Oh, they are in it, but only in the first and last stories of the season. And so the arc of the last season, UNIT vs the Master, is oddly absent this year, although it is followed up on twice. But without the continuing arc, it does make this season feel a little schizophrenic. Not that having different kinds of stories, with different settings and guest characters is a bad thing, after all Doctor Who has been doing that since the very first story. But after two seasons of UNIT as a regular feature, their absence feels a little odd. And not, unfortunately, refreshing. You get a kind of UNIT stand-in, in the shape of the Royal Navy with Captain Hart standing in for the Brigadier — which isn’t too bad, really, since it continues a well-established dynamic, and gives a wonderful chemistry between the Doctor and Hart. But it’s still not enough. The recieved wisdom is that the Brigadier and the Third Doctor were a regular duo, but that’s only really true for two seasons. After that both the Brigadier and UNIT only appear a couple of times a season, and that begins here, with the third year of the Doctor’s exile.
His exile is not absolute, of course, as shown last season in Colony of Space. This season we get two examples of the Doctor travelling off to distant worlds, at the behest of the Time Lords. And boy, they couldn’t be two more different stories if they tried to be. On the one hand, much like Colony of Space, they do continue to develop the ‘future history’ established in the Third Doctor’s era, as humanity spreads out among the stars and continues to be a nuisance for every race they meet. The Curse of Peladon is a great example of a future story under the producership of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. Everything about this story pretty much works, from the disparate alien races, and there are quite a few, to the guest cast, camera work and sets. (And making the Ice Warriors turn out to be good guys is a stroke of genius!) And then you have The Mutants… Everything Peladon is not. Cheap-looking sets, some of the most atrocious acting from guest stars, and a story that’s interesting but not very well structured, with some really clunk dialogue. Thankfully the mutants of the title are well realised.
What of the three Earth-based stories? Well, two of them involve time travel in some clever ways, with a well-realised predestination paradox in Day of the Daleks — a bit of a rare treat for Doctor Who really, since it doesn’t do such time travel stories very often. It’s nice to see the Daleks back, too, even if their voices are ‘off’ (well, that’s what the experts say, but I don’t buy it. The Dalek voices were not universally the same in every previous story, and their distinctiveness in this one just adds to the appeal for me). Great performances from every single guest star in Day of the Daleks, too! The other time travel Earth-based story features another look at Atlantis, and a brand new TARDIS console room (see the pic above!). And it looks lovely! Different from what came before, but similar enough to resonate a sense of comfort. It’s such a shame that they never used it again as it would have helped set the Third Doctor’s TARDIS apart, given him his own console room. Alas, the room seen in The Curse of Peladon is pretty much a standard configuration, much like the one seen last season, and then one we’ll see for the next few years.
I think rating this season is relatively easy, although choosing a best is a little tough. The top three could change with every watching. The worst, however, is without question. And so, my worst to best…
- The Mutants
- The Time Monster
- The Curse of Peladon
- Day of the Daleks
Which makes the winner, this time…
I have much to say about season eight, say you may want to grab a cuppa and get comfortable. For a start, it almost feels like a completely different show. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, though, since Doctor Who has survived for so long because of its ability to renew itself from time to time. But this is a different kind of reshaping.
Most of the elements that made the previous season such a success are still here, only the tone of the show is so different that it feels like everything has completely changed. The Doctor is still working alongside UNIT, only now he seems quite comfortable in his position. He says he’s trying to repair his TARDIS, and we do see him working on it, but there’s no sense of urgency to his desire to leave Earth – even though he does take a couple of opportunities to escape the planet as soon they present themselves. Each time he ends up back on Earth, and despite his words, his tone and smile implies that he’s really not bothered. If the Doctor’s attitude has changed since we last saw him, then so has UNIT’s. They seem much more relaxed as an organisation – cosy, to use a word that’s bandied about a lot when talking about the Pertwee era. And it’s true. The Brigadier is no longer the only regular officer; he now has Captain Yates as his second, and Sergeant Benton truly becomes a series regular this season. There’s an attempt to extend the ‘UNIT family’ a little further with the introduction of Corporal Bell in The Mind of Evil, but alas she only appears in one more story. Which is a shame. We don’t see much of her character, but it stands to reason that the HQ staff would be the same story by story, and so having familiar faces around makes sense. Alas, beyond the Brigadier, Yates and Benton all we have is the Doctor and Jo. Oh yes, Jo.
Now, I like Jo. Always have. It’s very easy to develop a soft spot for her. She’s so sweet, initially quite naïve, but over time she wins you over with her honesty and obviously love for the Doctor. But her introduction helps to soften up the whole UNIT scenario, adding a very human face to the organisation and serves to anchor the Doctor to Earth even more (curiously doing the exact opposite to what the production team wanted – they were very keen on getting the Doctor off Earth again!). But she’s no Liz. Which is a shame, as I mentioned in the previous season review. I liked the new dynamic, of the Doctor actually having a companion (or assistant, really, in Liz’s case) who was an adult, someone with their own mind and own objectives. Our first bona fide adult companion since Ian & Barbara left. Yes, I know Steven was an adult, but he wasn’t really written in any way equal to the Doctor, whereas Ian & Barbara were never second fiddle to the Doctor, and likewise neither was Liz. But Jo… For all her loveliness, she’s not an adult, but a girl in her late teens with an awful lot to learn. And so we’re brought back to the dynamic of Doctor/Companion we’ve seen time and time again. Luckily the chemistry behind Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning is such that this never becomes an issue, and they sell her completely. Initially he’s frustrated by her, as she does her best to prove herself as a valid UNIT agent, but he slowly softens up and warms to her.
The Brigadier has also changed since we last saw him. As I pointed out, in season seven he very clearly kept the Doctor around for his own purposes. There was no actual friendship between them. But from the outset of this season you can see a friendship there. Sure, it’s still charged at times, a mutual frustration between the two men, both of whom think they’re in charge, but there’s a nice sense of familiarity that wasn’t really there before. Again, this rather suggest a lot transpired between seasons. Another thing I’ve realised about the Brigadier – he really doesn’t believe a word the Doctor has said about the TARDIS or his travels through time. At this point he just accepts what the Doctor says, but really thinks the man is just an eccentric alien, a brilliant one at that, who happens to own a police box. The first time the Brigadier actually sees the TARDIS is in the lab in Spearhead from Space, and he doesn’t even witness it materialise (with a pop! for some reason) until Colony in Space (which is, in narrative terms, at least six years after he first learned of the TARDIS in The Web of Fear). And the Doctor’s line to Jo just after returning from the future says it all; the Brigadier would never believe where they’ve been. As we later learn, the Brigadier really has little idea of what really exist inside the box. I suspect the Brigadier even believes the Doctor built the console while at UNIT.
This season is also notable for introducing the Master to the series. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks decided the Doctor needed his own Moriarty – a mirror opposite. And so the Master was created, another Time Lord in a similar mould to the War Chief from The War Games. (It’s of no surprise that a large section of fandom believe them to the be the same character – they certainly share a lot of similarities, alas the War Chief may be aware of the Doctor, but it’s very clear from their initial dialogue that the two men have never actually met before The War Games.) The Master is an old friend of the Doctor who is out for universal domination and to just generally cause problems for the Doctor. The only downside with the Master as a recurring villain in season eight is the ease with which he has always beaten, and how often he had to team up with the Doctor to defeat the aliens he brings to Earth. This does somewhat weaken him, and suggests, as many commentators have said over the years, that it’s just some game between the Doctor and the Master. With hindsight, Dicks and Letts have gone on record to say they believe having the Master in every story of season eight was a mistake. There was a time I agreed with them, until this rewatch. I’ve found, to my surprise, that it actually works and creates the first proper season arc since the first season (in which the arc was the Doctor trying to return Ian & Barbara home). The ongoing story of UNIT being on the watch-out for the Master adds a nice layer to the season, creating nice sense of continuity between the stories, given it an almost Nu Who feel. Unfortunately, Colony in Space rather spoils that, other than the bookend scenes with the Brigadier in which he mentions they’re following up reports on Master sightings. Taking the Doctor from UNIT at that point, in the middle of such an arc, only succeeds in damaging the pace of the ongoing story, and when the Master happens to turn up on the same planet… Well, it makes no logical sense at all, and just feels so contrived. With the Master being captured by UNIT at the end of The Dæmons they create a sense of completion, leaving the viewers feeling that that we really have followed a season long story. One with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just a pity Colony in Space exists in the season, really.
A word on the ratings. They were high! Better than Doctor Who has had in a very long time, and by far the most consistently rated series in about four years. Whether you like the ‘dumbing down’ of UNIT and the softening of the tone, and I’m still in two minds about it since I adore season seven’s tone, there’s no doubt that what Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks did was create a very successful formula that secured Doctor Who as a real hit once again.
A quick mention of links to the Lethbridge-Stewart series of books (because, you know, it’s how I make my living)… In The Daemons the Doctor points out the Brigadier would have made a good accountant, and later the Brig says he should have run a bank instead. All this suggests the Brigadier is very good with numbers, which makes perfect sense as the Lethbridge-Stewart books reveal he did originally train to be a maths teacher. Another subtle link is the final scene of season eight, reportedly written by Richard Franklin and Nicholas Courtney themselves, in which Yates jokingly asks the Brig if he wants a dance, to which the Brigadier says he’d rather a pint. And thus why, when he arrives in Bledoe in The Forgotten Son, the first thing he does is say he could do with a pint. And, of course, the Brigadier’s lack of belief in half of what the Doctor says is echoed in the Lethbridge-Stewart books: ‘Really, Miss Travers, next thing you know you’ll be expecting a police box to turn up, too.’ Lethbridge-Stewart could tell Miss Travers was disappointed with his response, but he still wasn’t convinced by the idea of time travel, regardless of what Professor Travers had once told him.
And so to the countdown. Well, to be honest choosing a worst and best is incredibly easy. I have a little more trouble with the middle stories (well, second and third best), and they may well change next time I watch it. From worst (and, I’m sorry, but I can’t say least favourite as Colony in Space is just a very dull story, with very little to recommend it) to best, then:
- Colony in Space
- Terror of the Autons
- The Claws of Axos
- The Dæmons
Which makes the winner…
This season, more than any other, is very important to me at the moment. Along with season six’s The Invasion and season five’s The Web of Fear, season seven is the template for the Lethbridge-Stewart series of novels – in tone and style. When Doctor Who felt properly adult, a serious Earth-based science fiction series. It has all the best elements of shows like Adam Adamant Lives!, Department S, Danger Man, The Avengers… And season seven is one of my all-time favourites of Doctor Who. Which makes selecting a favourite story very difficult indeed!
After season six, this season is something of a shock to the system. It almost feels like an entirely new series, more so than ever before. The first use of colour helps to set it apart, but it’s also the aforementioned style and tone of the series. Granted, much of the style seen this season is evident in The Invasion, but the tone of that serial matched the rest of season six. Here though, the tone is mature, serious science fiction, dealing with the world of the now (even though the UNIT-era was supposedly a ‘near future’ version of Earth). The Doctor here is so very different from how he’ll be in the following four seasons — and it’s not just because of character development. It’s how he’s written, how he’s performed. There is a serious, almost snobbish, side to this Doctor that is a far cry from the… I want to say caricature… of himself he becomes later. All the elements that form that caricature are here, but they’re subtle, not played for laughs. There no sense of the ‘homely’ about this season of UNIT stories. There’s no friendship or sparring between the Doctor and the Brigadier, just a grudging acceptance of the situation they are in. That they are both stuck with each other, because they both know they can be a good deal of use to the other. The Doctor needs the Brigadier and UNIT because he has nowhere else to go, and can use their facilities to help repair the TARDIS. The Brigadier needs the Doctor because of his experience and scientific know-how, and besides, rather the Doctor assist him and UNIT then assist somebody else.
Plus, this season has Liz. Easily the most grown up companion since Ian & Barbara left back in ’65. From the moment she walks through the doors of the Brigadier’s office, Caroline John convinces as a very intelligent woman who knows she is better than UNIT. Her relationship with the Doctor is very sound, too. Clearly she knows the Doctor’s knowledge of science far exceeds her own, but they treat each other as equals, typified in the scene in Doctor Who and the Silurians where they work together to find a cure for the plague — no words are needed, they work in silence, both fully aware of the ability of the other. It is a great shame Liz is only in this season, that incoming producer Barry Letts decided he wanted someone less intelligent as a companion. As great as Jo proves to be in the following years, the dynamic between the Doctor and Liz deserved further exploration. I’d argue, the greater challenge would be to find stories that served these characters, instead of getting rid of Liz and lowering the tone to something a bit more homely. But then, I suppose, it was partly that cosy family feel of the UNIT era that made the Third Doctor’s time such a huge success. And it was. The most successful period of Doctor Who since Dalekmania in the mid-’60s.
As for the stories. Only four are on offer, alas. Three of which are seven-part stories to spread the budget and because, as proven, the ratings almost always seem to go down after the first episode of any given story. Thus it was reasoned less episode ones, less chance of the ratings dipping. They were right. Even at its weakest, season seven out-performed season six. So, although we only get four stories, we can four very strong stories. There really isn’t a dud between them. Autons, Silurians, radioactive aliens who are actually friendly, and a parallel Earth where the danger is found to be the planet itself. And man’s arrogance. A common theme this season. Indeed, other than Spearhead from Space, every story this season is a result of ego, avarice — the evil of men.
So, how do I pick a favourite? The only way I can, by picking the very first Jon Pertwee story I saw. Way back in 1988 on VHS…
In order of least preference then:
- Doctor Who and the Silurians
- The Ambassadors of Death
Which only leaves…
For the longest time, this was my favourite season of Second Doctor adventures — simply because this was pretty much the only almost-full season we had for Patrick Troughton (only The Tomb of the Cybermen existed in full outside of season six, and even then that only from 1992). Things have changed a bit since the days of BBC Video; now we have a fair whack of season five on DVD (as mentioned in the last entry), which upon this re-watch has made me re-evaluate Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor, and the superiority of season six.
There is an awful lot to recommend this season, so much creative energy is displayed on screen. From the fantasy and literary layers of The Mind Robber, to the sleight of hand used throughout The War Games with ten episodes of ‘loop narrative’ that works despite itself. And, of course, there is that final episode of the season, which totally dismisses almost every idea behind the Doctor’s origins up to that point. And in so doing, establishes several elements of Doctor Who lore that are still the backbone of Doctor Who today.
Yup, we finally learn that the Doctor is a renegade from the vaunted Time Lords, beings of immense power and total mastery over time itself. Not only is he one of these near-immortal beings, but he stole the TARDIS and went on the run because he was… bored. Yes, boredom is what drove the Doctor. The need to get involved, instead of observing from afar like the rest of his people (well, almost the rest of his people — there are two other exceptions, at this point in the show’s history). Of course, this need is not evident when we first met the Doctor, so it is fair to say that this bit of back story has a hint of revisionism behind it. Willingness to become involved, and fight against evil, without some selfish or nepotist reason, only came towards the end of season one.
So, despite all the greatness seen on screen, including the set-up of UNIT (a creative move that would set the template for the following five years of the series, although the UNIT set-up is based on much of The Web of Fear from the previous season), there was a lot of upheaval behind the scenes. An increasingly frustrated star, tired and overworked by the gruelling filming schedule, a script editor who seemed to find fault in almost every story idea, often to the point of cancelling scripts at the last minute, and a producer who was asked to move onto another BBC TV show, leaving behind a replacement producer who, arguably, created more problems than he solved. And yet, in spite of all these things, and with scripts that were being written mere weeks before production, the season was for the BBC management something of a triumph. Alas, the viewing figures were saying something completely different. By the episode eight of The War Games they were at an all-time low of 3.5 million! Something needed to be done… Change was in the air, in more ways than one.
Picking a favourite story is not easy here, since season six contains so many favourites of mine. The Mind Robber is a inventive tour de force of television, The Seeds of Death is the first Troughton story I ever saw, and The War Games — ten episodes of epicness. The worst story is simple enough, so I shall start with worst to best…
- The Krotons
- The Dominators
- The Invasion
- The Mind Robber
- The Seeds of Death
Which leaves, in mind, one of the most epic adventures of Doctor Who ever…
We are so very lucky to have so much of season five available to us on DVD. There was a time when all we had was The Tomb of the Cybermen, and over twenty years ago we didn’t even have that! In late-2012, early-2013 I had to re-watch the entire series for my book Companions, and during that re-watch the only way I could research season five was with audio soundtracks and reconstructions online! Two years on…?
Thanks to some wonderful animation we have The Ice Warriors complete, and with the discovery of The Enemy of the World and most of The Web of Fear in late 2013, we now have over half of that season on DVD! Yay? Oh god, yes!
What with the huge gap of missing stories through season three and, especially, season four, we don’t really get to see the development of the series, only snapshots here and there. As such re-watching season five is almost like watching a completely different show. Yes, it’s still features the Doctor and the TARDIS, but in every way that counts it feels different. The performances are more polished, the scripts more coherent and layered, the direction is smart with some really fantastic location work peppered throughout. And then there’s Jamie… In the small amount of material we have from season four we don’t get to see a lot of Jamie. In The Moonbase, the only full Troughton story available on DVD (completed with animated episodes) Jamie is not in it a great deal, and when he is he’s mostly been given lines originally written for Ben and Polly. But in season five his full character hits you in the face — the humour, the loyalty, the protectiveness… For the Second Doctor there is no doubt that Jamie is the companion (and hardly surprising as he was in all but one Second Doctor adventure).
It is so very difficult to choose a favourite story from season five. I thought adding the orphaned Moonbase might help, but it really doesn’t as the quality of that story only adds to the superiority of the fifth season. I can honestly say that, as of now, season five is right up there among my favourite season of Who, sitting alongside such greats as seasons one, seven, thirteen, and twenty-six. Which is new, as season six used to be my favourite of Troughton — mostly by default as that season almost exists in its entirety. So, to my favourite story… I feel an obligation to pick The Web of Fear out of fealty to the Haismans and my connection with them, and of course the historical first appearance of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, but I have to be honest in my re-watch and consider what else is around that story. With The Moonbase included I have five extremely good productions to pick from…
And this is my, very difficulty chosen, run down of season five (a list of all brilliant stories!):
- The Tomb of the Cybermen
- The Moonbase
- The Ice Warriors
- The Web of Fear
… which makes the winner David Whitaker’s tour-de-force
Re-watching Doctor Who has its downside. With most of seasons one and two still in existence and on DVD, it’s fascinating to see the series develop in its formative years, as the production team start stretching their creative abilities, and the ethos of the series is built. And then we come to season three… Le sigh!
Only three complete stories are commercially available, and they’re good examples of the upheaval and doubt going on behind the scenes. There’s an eight-month gap between The Time Meddler (the last story of season three) and The Ark, the next available story. Eight months is a long time, especially back then! As a result there is such a jump in the way the stories are told and made, and it leaves the viewer with a bit of a disconnect. So much has moved on. Vicki has gone, Dodo has joined (almost come from nowhere, in fact). Fortunately the three remaining stories only have one story between each of them missing, which at least allows a sense of continuity when watching them back, and once again you can see a little of the development of the characters. Alas, we don’t get to see Steven leave, which is a great pity — as is the lack of good material for Steven. Only three complete serials exist with this companion, and so you only get to see a hint of how good he actually was.
For the purposes of this re-watch, I’m lumping Hartnell’s final adventure with these three stories, since Hartnell only had two stories in season four, and only one of those exists (albeit without the show-changing fourth episode — the first to feature the Doctor regenerating!).
All this does mean choosing my favourites is a rather limited experience, with only four stories to choose from (not unlike Doctor Who in 1987-1989), so without further ado, this is my rather limited countdown of the final four Doctor Who stories featuring William Hartnell from 1966.
- The War Machines
- The Ark
- The Tenth Planet
With the winner being…
If the first season of Doctor Who was something new and original, something quite unlike anything else produced on British TV at the time, then season two took that even further. Fortunately, the first two seasons of Doctor Who exist almost in full, both only missing one story (well, in season two’s case some of The Crusades exist, unlike season one’s Marco Polo), which means as a viewer I get to (almost) fully experience the birth of Doctor Who and see the Doctor develop into the basic character we’ve all come to love over the last fifty-one plus years. By the end of season two he’s every bit the hero we know, a man guided by a strong sense of morality, someone who will put himself on the front line to defend the every-man, and a man with a lot of humour.
Season two sees a lot of changes, both behind the scenes and on screen. We see, first, Susan depart in the epic Dalek Invasion of Earth (the first story to truly utilise location filming), and then a few stories later the departure of Ian & Barbara (in one of the most touching photo montages ever produced). Replacement companions are not far away; first in the shape of orphan Vicki, a child from the 25th Century, and later astronaut Steven Taylor. Behind the scenes Verity Lambert is all set to depart by the end of the season, with new producer John Wiles trailer her during the production of the final serial, The Time Meddler. David Whitaker, the original script editor, departs at the start of the season, replaced by Dennis Spooner, who brings with him a new level of humour to the stories, notable almost immediately with his own story, The Romans. Spooner departs at the end of the season, with the final story under the supervision of new script editor Donald Tosh. Interesting aside; Terrance Dicks, a man whose association with Doctor Who begins in 1968 and continues to this day, often tells an anecdote about how he created a ‘tradition’ in 1975 in which the outgoing script editor writes the first story for the incoming script editor — it was a ‘tradition’ Terrance claims to have invented to simply give himself a little bit of work. As it turns out, though, this ‘tradition’ is not without precedent, since Dennis Spooner writes the first story for his replacement, The Time Meddler. Perhaps Terrance knew more than he was letting on?
Season two was a time of great change for Doctor Who; what began as a serious, part-time educational series of adventures, becomes a more lightweight and fun show by the end of the series. Straight historical are replaced with comedy visits to the past, and the creation of the ‘pseudo-historical’, where history and science-fiction merge. We even get one story set on a world populated by giant insects and butterflies, without a single human in sight! And, to top it all off, we finally meet another time traveller — one of the Doctor’s own people no less!
And so, the countdown of my favourite stories for season two:
- The Rescue
- The Chase
- The Space Museum
- Planet of Giants
- The Time Meddler
- The Dalek Invasion of Earth
- The Web Planet
The winner of best story of the season is, for me, the historical comedy…
Alas, the next few seasons are in bad shape with only a handful of stories still existing for each season, which does make the re-watch a little less fun. So, to that end, the next entry will cover the remainder of the Hartnell stories available on DVD…
And so that was season one, running from 23rd November 1963 to 12 September 1964. Oh wait, getting a little ahead of myself…
For no reason other than I wanted to, I’ve decided to re-watch Doctor Who in its entirety — well, I say entirety, but of course there are many episodes, from the ’60s, that no longer exist. Thus I will be watching every full story that is commercially available, and for the purpose of the re-watch that includes stories completed with animated episodes. This does, unfortunately, mean I will be skipping certain stories entirely — which becomes a problem from the third to fifth seasons especially, as so little exists from this three years.
This past week I’ve been watching the first season, which pretty much exists completely. It’s a good thing — no, scratch that, it’s a great thing! The first season is a solid piece of television in its own right, and sets the building blocks for the Doctor Who that everybody loves so much these days. It’s a gradual build, though; much like the first series of Nu Who, the first season of Doctor Who builds things up slowly. It’s not until the penultimate story, for instance, that the Doctor begins to simply get involved in the adventure to help out others. Up to that point, the Doctor was only concerned with himself and Susan, his granddaughter and then, as the season progressed, his circle of concern encompassed Ian and Barbara, his initially reluctant companions. Indeed, at first, the Doctor was very much opposed to the presence of Ian and Barbara, thinking only of himself and, occasionally, Susan. It was his selfish desire that got them into trouble, for instance, in The Daleks. Another important thing to note about this first season; the main characters are very well defined, rounded and real. They’re not defined by particular traits which remain the same throughout, but their views and reactions are entirely dependent on whatever situation they find themselves in. Much as would be the case with any real person when put into extreme situations. And they don’t always get on — Barbara is in direct opposition with the Doctor in The Aztecs, the Doctor is more than willing to cast suspicion on the school teachers in The Edge of Destruction… The list goes on.
So, minus Marco Polo as it doesn’t exist any more, this is my run down of season one from least favourite to favourite. (Although I must stress, the very first episode is a masterpiece, but is let down by the subsequent three episodes. And there are not really any dud stories in this first season.)
- The Keys of Marinus
- The Edge of Destruction
- An Unearthly Child
- The Sensorites
- The Daleks
- The Aztecs
And the winner of BEST STORY OF SEASON ONE is…
Please do share your thoughts and comments on the triumphant first season below…