RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 4 27 January 2014

(First written in November 2012)

As before, spoilers abound. See Wikipedia for production details)

Doctor Who (sic) - William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton
Ben Jackson - Michael Craze
Polly - Anneke Wills
Jamie McCrimmon - Frazer Hines
Victoria Waterfield - Deborah Watling

The Smugglers

We're definitely getting into recon country now, and some of these are pretty ropey. I'm certainly noticing a tendency in myself to rate recons lower than surviving episodes. But there are some interesting side effects too -- in the stills, without Hartnell's characteristic animation, it's much more obvious how ill he was.

But from what we can make of the story... well, it's Smugglerland. Cornish rustics, murder, pirates, secret passages, treasure, treachery, and a Squoire. But there is a nicely underplayed note with all the locals unquestioningly taking Polly for a boy -- I've seen it argued by serious scholars that one reason various historical female impersonations were successful is that clothing was so gender-differentiated that people weren't used to looking for other markers, much as many Asian people "look the same" to Europeans because they're collectively different from the usual.

Several of the Mummerzet accents have a habit of slipping into Oirish, and for most of its running time this feels like a pretty uninspired instance of the historical story model: just as we've seen several times before, everyone gets split up, they get jointly and severally captured (and Hartnell's missing off-stage for much of the second episode), and everyone runs around showing off the local colour. Still, there's one massive move: rather than the usual "can't change anything" that's been trotted out several times before, our heroes now have no hesitation in getting involved in the indigenous plots and schemes. Because of that, rather than the feeling I got in The Crusades of the story ending simply because it was the final episode, there is an actual plot conclusion here. It feels curiously like an echo of The Gunfighters (and, because much of the surviving footage is what was cut out by the Australian censors, the violence stands out).

The production setup is a little odd -- no background music at all, which doesn't help dilute the sparse feel pushed on me by the reconstruction, but at the same time there's very extensive location work, and one can only guess at how well the final fights may have worked.

Ben's more argumentative than Steven, and much readier to resort to violence; it seems to work quite well, and he is at least being written in a unique voice. (Though it's a pity that he, as a sailor, didn't get out to the pirate ship.) Polly's not being anything much, so far, though her witchcraft act is decent (particularly since it means that Ben doesn't get to knock out their gaoler), making up for her pointless bonus capture near the end. Still, they both bring an energy that Dodo largely lacked.

The Tenth Planet

Well, this is The Big One -- the point at which Doctor Who did something that, as far as I know, no other show had attempted, changing the lead actor while claiming to keep the character the same. But while the audience had seen Hartnell getting increasingly shaky over the previous stories, they had no idea what to expect...

It's very strange to see the televisual idea of a space control centre and realise that it was enacted in an age when there really was an exploratory space programme going on, and the real thing was in regular use and, presumably, familiar to television viewers. With that in mind, I'm rather surprised they didn't try for something like the Apollo mission control with its ranks of near-identical embedded monitors, instead of giving us a room full of standard desks bearing random bits of electronics.

The spaceship interior is another matter entirely, being wildly off: it's far too spacious! I realise that there are constraints on set design to allow for light and camera placement, but surely this would have thrown contemporary audiences even more than it throws me?

In fact the feeling I get from these opening sequences is one of huge ambition, overstretch, and resentful retrenchment -- not inappropriate for Britain in 1966 -- summed up by the way that, just after one character comments on how strong the wind is, we get an external scene with an anemometer that's blatantly not turning as a stagehand throws buckets of "snow" into the shot. (The horizontal hinged hatch is surely also one of the worst possible designs for something that might get covered with snow.)

All that out of the way, it's pleasant to see an international (and indeed interracial) crew rather than the more usual and depressingly realistic assumption that space exploration and support would be conducted exclusively by white Americans. (And it was probably more daring to have a black astronaut than it would have been to have any female characters at all... well, all right, there are a couple of unnamed female techs on a different site completely.)

It's a brave story that shows us the new monster at the end of the first episode. These early Cybermen are nothing like the clanking metal monsters of later versions; their movements are normally fluid, much more the men-in-suits that their back-story suggests they regard themselves as being. I find their voices rather splendid, clearly inspired by the mechanical hardware and analogue synthesisers of the day -- it's a shame the mime-style mouth-opening distracts a bit, though it's still useful to make it apparent when they're speaking.

The loss of Zeus 4 is one of those sequences where less is more: the lack of a budget to show an external view of the capsule, thus restricting our viewpoint to what the characters could see, does a much better job of conveying the impressions of those characters than would an effects shot of the capsule burning up.

(The role-player in me wonders what the default for Beam Weapons (Projector) TL10 should be, and what the familiarity penalties should be like for TL7 and TL8 characters... they all seem to do a very good job of using the stolen Cyberman weapon.)

It seems that Hartnell's collapse in episode 3 was planned for -- the script writers were told to set things up so that he could be dropped out of an episode and his lines given to other actors. Supposedly they mostly went to Ben, though I have to say I don't think he gets a great deal to do either.

Episodes 3 and 4, in general, seem to be relatively lacking -- the usual problem of a complex story, in that setting things up is always more interesting than resolving them; a "they're trivially vulnerable to simple thing X" resolution is always unsatisfying, and here we get two of them (they're vulnerable to radioactivity, and their planet's going to blow up and kill them all anyway). The base-under-siege template would be redone endlessly over the rest of the show's history, but I think this is pretty much the first one. It's unfortunate that the story has the Cybermen invading all over Earth, when the budget was able only to show them invading one polar base and one office; they end up seeming to have very little to do after their splendid initial explanation of their nature. Still, they're not the cardboard villains they'd become later; they have sensible reasons for doing what they do.

And of course there's the change itself -- it wouldn't be called "regeneration" for many years yet. What's most interesting to me is that here it's very clearly something mediated by the TARDIS -- the Doctor has to get back there and operate controls to make it happen, and it's accompanied by the usual travel noises.

So: Hartnell. Lots of line-fluffs, particularly towards the end, but he actually had a character arc rather than just a personality: from the cynical outsider and cantankerous genocide of series 1 to the heroic meddler we see here. But the show had changed faster than he had, and in Troughton's era would steer hard towards monster-of-the-month.

The Power of the Daleks

These are probably the episodes I most regret having been lost -- there's no way of seeing how Patrick Troughton took on the unprecedented task of playing the same lead character but differently. Even from what we have here, though, it's clear that this Doctor is going further and faster in the later Hartnell's direction of being a jester/clown/Coyote figure.

It would also have been nice to see how the idea of mercury pools was realised on videotape. But given the BBC's usual budget, the show wisely moves indoors fairly quickly, giving us a large population of barely-introduced people. I assume we're meant to care about them when they get slaughtered later... but actually their ongoing stories seemed potentially interesting, and I wondered how much they'd be explored. Not all that much, as it turned out; the rebels are pretty much just a talking-point until more than half-way through. It is nice to see humans fighting each other as the Daleks build up their strength, though.

The Dalek plot makes more sense than some of theirs have, though it's odd that the Doctor keeps insisting that the Daleks are dangerous and must be destroyed... but never explaining why, or even suggesting that there is a reason! I admit I'm much less impressed by the NuWho episode Victory of the Daleks now that I see just how much a ripoff of this it is.

It's not clear just when this story is meant to be set; they talk about "radioing" Earth, suggesting they're in the same solar system, for what that's worth. After the Dalek Invasion of Earth (2164), nobody would forget what Daleks look like, so it must pre-date that...

It's unfortunate that the script chooses to refer to the Daleks' power source -- the "static electricity" thing was wisely dropped after their first appearance, and they certainly didn't seem to have any trouble moving around in a variety of environments in The Chase and The Daleks' Master Plan.

Oh, boo hoo, Lesterson -- when the race you've chosen to exploit and enslave shows some individual initiative to try to ensure its survival, you condemn it as "evil". Cry me a galaxy. Yes, all right, they're the Daleks and so they are evil, but you don't know that yet! Janley is more interesting -- playing all sides against each other for her own benefit, unusual in a female character at the time.

The plot has rather too much running back and forth for my taste, and I think Whitaker's poking fun when he can get away with it -- "You wouldn't kill me, I gave you life" is straight out of a fifties mad scientist film, and as for the plot constraint that no more than three Daleks can be seen at a time, well! Still, it gets the job done, the story is an enjoyable one overall, and Robert James steals the show as the increasingly-deranged Lesterton. It's just a bit of a shame that Ben and Polly have almost nothing to do.

Set design is mostly pretty bland, though the Dalek capsule itself is a lovely piece of flanged industrial pipework -- unlike any other Dalek ships we've seen, but who cares?

The Highlanders

It becomes clear straight away why the historical was on the decline: like several others when inspiration was clearly lacking, it's all redcoats and claymores and sassenachs and Kirsty, a curiously unadventurous adventure in the Highlanderland theme park. I suppose painting the Scots as virtuous and the English as villains may have been unusual at the time, but by the time I was around it had become pretty much the orthodoxy of history teaching (anything the English did was Bad).

There are some good bits, particularly from Hannah Gordon as Kirsty, but mostly this seems like the last hurrah of non-monster stories before the show settles down in its new base-under-siege, monsters-everywhere form. Hartnell's Doctor wouldn't have tried to turn tail and run when he found he was on a battlefield... but he might well have wanted to leave because he was bored to tears by the whole business. He certainly wouldn't have done all that messing about with costume changes and random impersonations. Seeing the occasionally-funny but always-dignified Hartnell replaced by this clown must have been a huge shock to the audience.

While this is known as "Jamie's introduction story", he has basically nothing to distinguish him from the mass of Highlanders. The over-the-top Captain Trask might have been more interesting if we didn't remember the almost-identical character from The Smugglers (filmed in the previous production block, but broadcast not that long before this). Polly gets something to do this time, which is always welcome.

Particularly coming right after the pretty decent The Power of the Daleks -- which is similarly lacking in full-motion episodes, so I don't think it's just my bias against reconstructions -- this story just falls short in every respect.

The Underwater Menace

This sets itself up much like a classic Hartnell story, with our heroes splitting up and randomly wandering around an apparently-deserted planet until someone shows up to drag them into the adventure -- in this case literally. But for a pleasant change we don't have one group being captured by each faction, rather everyone's thrown back together almost at once. (Caisson disease doesn't affect you while you're being compressed, but never mind.)

It's interesting to note that this iteration of the TARDIS crew can try out foreign languages, implying that they've had to do so before. Never mentioned previously, of course.

The overall plot, though... oh dear. Blowing up the world to lower sea levels? Flooding the lower levels of Atlantis and "hoping" the upper levels will survive? Spending huge amounts of resources converting prisoners to fish-people for labour, then leaving them unsupervised and being all surprised when they revolt?

Even without the plotholes, Zaroff is a cardboard villain, everyone else is profoundly unmemorable, Ben and Jamie have nothing to do, Polly is a wimp, and all in all this story doesn't seem to have anything much to say. Goodies, baddies, slave revolt, flood, oh dear. There's just too much stuff in this script, and none of it's developed beyond the absolute basics. This story has its moments, but they're sadly few.

We will not speak of the fish-people's interpretive dance.

The Moonbase

It's clear that there wasn't much in the way of handover between the original production team and this one -- two years ago The Web Planet had shown a very specific sort of not-spacesuit, but here we see a completely different sort of suit being carried on board. The telesnap reconstruction doesn't make things particularly clear, but slide-whistle noises (even electronic ones) are never a good sign.

Actually the lack of moving pictures for the first episode also deprives us of the introductory shot of the control-room set, which is a great shame -- when I see it in episode 2 in its full glory, rather than the washed-out telesnaps, it's much more interesting. (On the other hand, the spacesuits used in episode 2 are... not entirely convincing.) More generally, there's clearly a lot happening that's not directly reflected in dialogue, which is a relatively new move for this show. I feel the loss of movement much more keenly in this story than in many of the other missing episodes so far.

I do very much like the nerve-following infection -- they even get the facial nerves not entirely wrong! (At least in the close-up, posed shots; in the longer shots it's just some makeup guy's best guess.) It does seem a little odd to put all of Earth's meteorological eggs in one basket (with only one doctor on the base, for example), but sillier things have happened.

The Cybermen here have clearly moved on from the days of The Tenth Planet; they now have hard shell faces (and obvious zips up their backs). Their voices are disappointingly mundane now, and the essential tragedy of their situation has been removed. This is the story where they start to be the Achilles Heel Monkeys of the Doctor Who universe: radiation's mentioned again, but now they also have to worry about solvents and some unspecified sort of side-effect of gravity manipulation (after all, if it were really "gravity" they'd hardly be on the Moon -- or on Earth -- in the first place)...

Ah yes, where indeed would we find radiation... on the surface of the Moon, where there is no atmosphere to absorb the solar output as there is on Earth...

Overall, the story's a blatant retread of The Tenth Planet, and the relatively lifeless direction does it no favours -- though at least we don't get much in the way of corridors. Set design is great, and the music's pretty decent. But mostly what's memorable about this for me is Troughton, having completed the journey that began in Totter's Lane and fully worked his way into the role of the evil-fighting Doctor.

The Macra Terror

A very dodgy reconstruction of the first episode here ("A Space in Time production"). But we get a fairly immediate Glossy But Corrupt State, and the One Man Who Knows What's Going On, which make at least for a promising start. It all seems to flail around a bit in subsequent episodes, but it's pleasing that this time it's Ben who's hypnotised rather than usual designated victim Polly. (Particularly after The War Machines.)

The story is a very crude one, though: there are Bad Aliens, and they get Blown Up so that the Proper Humans can carry on singing and dancing. (What alternative did they have? Where did they come from? Who cares, they look icky so they have to die.) It's a disappointment after some of the really interesting stories we've had from the series, and it's a shame that it was used as a pattern so often hereafter. As with The Moonbase, it suffers greatly from the lack of full-motion episodes. On the other hand, the cheery incidental music is wonderful.

The Faceless Ones

A promising start, particularly in that the flaw in the bad guys' plan is discovered by the coincidence of an unexpected arrival: if the TARDIS hadn't landed where it did, there wouldn't have been any witnesses to the policeman's murder and things could have carried on as intended.

It soon settles down into the pattern of time-wasting, alas, with the Doctor and Jamie constrained from investigation by being on the run. The "cheap tours for young people aged 18-25" predate the foundation of Club 18-30 by some three years...

Pauline Collins was apparently offered a companion slot, but turned it down. Her character here seems pretty broadly drawn, and given how much development we haven't seen from Ben and Polly I don't suppose Sam Briggs would have got very far either -- and Collins had a rather more recognised acting career than anyone who was a companion. Still, she's very much in the foreground of later episodes, along with Jamie, while Ben and Polly are completely ignored on the run-up to their exit (much as Dodo was for hers) -- though they do at least get a farewell scene, for all it feels rather rushed.

Plothole, which to be fair many people wouldn't have known about at the time: the high-altitude alien planes would surely be picked up on the BMEWS radar at Fylingdales, and maybe even by the Thule transmitter. And an odd research error: the fighter plane shown in stock footage in Episode 4 is a Fiat G.91, which was in service with the Italian Air Force at the time... but why, and how, would the BBC have turned up a clip of an Italian plane rather than say a Lightning?

The story doesn't exactly sparkle, but the airport location work is well-realised (rather better than I remember it being some years later in Time-Flight) and the supporting cast is solid. And we get a Doctor who negotiates a peace rather than blowing up the ugly aliens... which to me is the "classic" Doctor, and it's a shame that he's only turning up again just as the plots start to get seriously repetitive.

The Evil of the Daleks

A ropey reconstruction and a frankly ropey start; since we are still at Gatwick, why not just go back and get the Commandant to pull strings? Because he was only in the previous story, that's why; this one would have done better to start a bit further along in the chase. Still, the first episode closer is decent.

My immediate reaction to cross-time antique smuggling was that there must be easier ways to make money. When I looked up the historical price of gold, though, it wasn't as clear; in raw dollars, it was worth $20.65 an ounce in 1866 and $35.13/oz. in 1966. Rebasing to 1966 dollars, it's more like $72/oz. in 1866; the cost had fallen relative to inflation. So one might take gold back to pay for the antiques, and the antiques forward to buy the gold...

Perhaps more importantly, this is one of the very few stories (so far) to incorporate time travel as part of the plot rather than as a way of getting to where the plot happens. We've seen it before in The Ark, and in two other Dalek stories, but it's still a fairly fresh idea.

There's a lot of effort spent on setting up the second episode reveal of the Daleks... which is all rather wasted, given that we've already seen them in the first episode cliffhanger, and of course we already know the series title. And why all that fuss about the portrait? (Not one of the BBC's better efforts at a likeness, as far as I can tell from the low-resolution surviving video.)

It's interesting to see Jamie and the Doctor arguing, for all it's a setup; it's the first time we've seen more anything like disagreement since the original team of companions, and even they didn't do much. Alas, Victoria herself is probably the quintessential useless screamer. She's introduced in episode 2 and does essentially nothing for the remaining episodes except be shoved around by Daleks and dangled in front of the men as a prize.

More of the lost early continuity here, where the Doctor has "travelled too much in time -- [he is] more than human". (And later, he claims not to be human at all... I think the first time that such a claim has been made.)

The human-factor Daleks are very strange and faintly embarrassing -- I wonder how Roy Skelton felt about doing childish Dalek voices. On the other hand the Emperor Dalek is an utterly splendid piece of design. The Dalek Factor plot almost manages to make sense, though it really comes down to mind control more than anything fundamental; it mostly seems to be there to lead into the Dalek Civil War, which the BBC planned to be the final send-off to the Daleks (Terry Nation was still shopping around his independent series idea to the Americans, and I suspect the BBC would have been wise to drop them from Doctor Who completely rather than staying in hock to his estate forever). These battle sequences recall the end of The Chase, though sadly they haven't survived as well. Maxtible is a splendidly frothing villain in the style of Alan Moore.

Overall... there are some good moments here, but it does drag rather in the middle episodes with generic action, and we don't get as much characterisation as I'd like. It gets a bit picaresque and science-as-magic for my taste. Not, I think, the all-time great that people claim it is, even allowing for my bias against reconstructions, but not a bad story either; at least it had the guts to end the Dalek threat. And what was going on with Terrall?

Overall impressions

Only two departed companions this time round -- but the unprecedented step of changing the Doctor may make up for that. The end of this series certainly seems a very long way from the beginning; we've had the Cybermen (for the first time, and again); the Daleks twice more; and a bunch of other enemies who wouldn't come back. Troughton has grown into the role after a shaky start (though since only ten episodes out of the whole series have survived it's hard to say just how). The show's growing legs in its second major version. Favourite story of the series: The Power of the Daleks.

Departed companions to date, ranked by how much I like them:

  1. Barbara
  2. Susan
  3. Ian
  4. Steven
  5. Sara Kingdom
  6. Ben
  7. Polly
  8. Vicki
  9. Dodo
  10. Katarina

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 05:26pm on 27 January 2014

    When you say:

    "And we get a Doctor who negotiates a peace rather than blowing up the ugly aliens... which to me is the "classic" Doctor, and it's a shame that he's only turning up again just as the plots start to get seriously repetitive."

    I can't make my mind up whether you're talking about Troughton and his plots or some part of New Who with the "he's only turning up again just as..."

    I can see why a reasonably known actress would turn down a companion slot. We see the same today, companion actors are barely known and they leave once they've used New Who to get well enough known to do something else. Slide the "how well they're known" up the scale a bit and New Who doctors do the same, look at the number that that have gone off to Hollywood (and failed to find work there). Peter Capaldi seems to be a departure though.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 05:27pm on 27 January 2014

    When you said:

    We will not speak of the fish-people's interpretive dance.

    Enquiring minds want to know, you can't leave it at that.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 05:40pm on 27 January 2014

    I was writing purely in the context of the original series: Troughton veers back and forth between peacemaker and warmonger. In his early stories he's had no particular objection to fighting, but in The Faceless Ones he's suddenly veered back the other way. To me, the Doctor who only reluctantly gets pushed into fighting (and generally has little time for military thinking) is the "classic" one.

    I think it's odd that popular series regulars don't seem to thrive when they move elsewhere, but this is probably a flaw in my understanding of the way actors get work.

    The Underwater Menace simply stops for several minutes while the converted fish-slaves put on a dance performance. It's almost as bad as The Web Planet, except it doesn't last as long.

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