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…