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…