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Doctor Who Re-Watch – Season Two

firstbannerIf 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.vickisteven 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…

Romans_novel

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…

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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – The Big Five, part three.

My fuel for the anniversary was ignited at last! Although that said, there had always been one part of the anniversary celebrations I was excited about. As soon as it was announced and the casting began, my interest was piqued, and when I saw David Bradley in costume and the rebuilt original TARDIS control set, there was no doubt in mind that An Adventure in Space and Time was going to be a gem of the anniversary.

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#3: An Adventure in Space and Time

Now this was something truly special. On the outside it looked like it was going to be a docudrama about the origins of Doctor Who, but when you watch it you realise it’s about so much more. It’s about two people struggling in industry not suited for them.

In terms of production there really is no faulting this amazing piece of television; the past is lovingly recreated, the old sets are perfectly rendered anew, from the junkyard in Totter’s Lane to the TARDIS interior, although there is something most odd An-Adventure-in-Space-and-Time-poster-1about seeing an original Cyberman and Menoptra in colour. And for the most part the casting is also superb; David Bradley convinces as William Hartnell, thankfully not attempting an impersonation, but rather a performance. Jessica Raine also puts in a sterling performance as Verity Lambert, Doctor Who’s first producer, and having seen Verity is many a documentary, I can easily accept Raine as her. On top of that Brian Cox and Sacha Dhawan pull in very respectable portrayals of Sydney Newman (the godfather of Doctor Who) and Warris Hussein (the very first director of the series). However, for my money, the rest of the cast, although good, don’t convince me as the actors they are supposed to be portraying – the worst of these being Reece Shearsmith, who I greatly enjoy in The League of Gentlemen, but he totally fails to convey an ounce of Patrick Troughton’s charm and charisma, with not even a suggestion of Troughton’s mannerisms. Indeed, it was the only moment I was taken out of the drama and wondered what had gone wrong.

Unfortunately ninety-minutes is not a lot of time to cover three years of TV production, especially for a show that was running almost every single week for those three years, and so we often skip large chunks of time with a few snapshots of various key moments, like the Daleks being filmed on Westminster Bridge on a Sunday morning in 1964. But this is a minor niggle, for the  moments that count are shown in their full glory. From Hartnell’s initial reluctance to take part in what he first regards as a kid’s show, to his steady realisation that he’s become a national hero for the children of the UK, witnessed most effectively in the subtle way his relationship with his granddaughter mellows, and when he’s almost worshipped by a group of school children while out in the park with his wife. It is incredibly touching to see an old man sodavid-bradley-william-hartnell-space-time out of his depth one moment, then within his element the next when acceptance sets in. Alongside Hartnell’s growth from grumpy old man to loving grandfather, we watch Verity Lambert struggle to make her voice known in an industry of men who fail to see her as anything more than Sydney Newman’s assistant. But struggle she does, until she gets her show made and convinces everyone that she was the right person for the job, and her gender is irrelevant to her position. This is shown wonderfully in her relationship with Warris Hussein (the only still-living person portrayed in this drama, a challenge Sacha Dhawan takes on with aplomb), a British-Indian who has his own struggles in the industry due to his ethnic background.

There are many wonderful touches seen throughout this production, including tying in the Doctor’s epic monologue at the end of The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve with the failing health of William Hartnell, as he realises that, like the Doctor, it will soon be time to retire and end his adventure; Sydney Newman’s reading of the first Dalek script cutting to images of Nazi iconography (although I did question the use of ‘exterminate’ as this point as the Daleks’ infamous catchphrase was not coined until a few Dalek stories later); the cameos at Verity’s leaving do (I spotted Anneke Wills and Jean Marsh instantly, actresses who played two of the First Doctor’s companions), and Carol Ann Ford (the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan) as a woman calling her children in to watch Doctor Who and even William Russell (who played Ian Chesterton, one of the Doctor’s original companions) as a car park inspector at the BBC. But the best moment of all was the surprise appearance of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor when William Hartnell realised that his end had come, but the future of Doctor Who was assured. There was something matt-smith-adventure-in-space-and-time-600x335magical about seeing the First and Eleventh (Thirteenth?) Doctor both standing at the original TARDIS console (a scene I was hoping to see recreated in the anniversary special, with the Eleventh Doctor looking up and seeing his original self reflected back at him – alas, it did not happen).

There was a couple of moments that didn’t work (the aforementioned Reece Shearsmith being a prime example), but the majority of the docudrama was superb. A rare moment of poignant drama among a TV schedule that is usually more style than substance. A reminder of the difficulties Doctor Who faced at the beginning, and why it is such a success story today.

And now I was ready. It was only a couple of days until a trip to the cinema to see Doctor Who in 3D… But would it work? Would be a celebration of fifty years of Doctor Who, or would I, once more, become Steven Moffat’s worst critic?