RogerBW's Blog

Doctor Who Re-Watch, series 11 16 March 2014

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

Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

But first, a divergence into alternate history.

The Sarah Who Never Was

Lis Sladen was the second choice to play the new companion. April Walker was the first, but during rehearsals for The Time Warrior it became clear that she and Pertwee couldn't get on. She was released (and still paid for all the series 11 contract, though some 60% of that was recouped by giving her roles in other programmes over the same period) and auditions were hastily re-opened. That character was not to be Sarah Jane Smith, curious journalist, but rather some other character about whom details are not available. (Getting solid information about this is hard. Neither Barry Letts nor Jon Pertwee liked to talk about it, Lis Sladen kept completely silent, and the only real data seem to be on a commentary track to the 2012 DVD release of Invasion of the Dinosaurs.)

I'm not familiar with Walker, though she seems to have been a fairly prolific guest performer in BBC shows around this time; my own video collection has her only some years later, in a 1982 episode of Yes, Minister (3x04 The Moral Dimension), where she appears in the final scene as a Guardian journalist.

Katy Manning was 5' tall. Lis Sladen was 5'4". I don't have a confirmed height for Walker, but in The Moral Dimension she appears only a couple of inches shorter than Antony Carrick, about the same height as Derek Fowlds. He was 5'10". Jon Pertwee was 6'2½".

Since no footage was ever shot and I've only seen Walker in the one very brief role, it's hard to posit how she might have done. I therefore feel free to speculate. It seems to me that Pertwee was used to having a companion he could look down on; while by all accounts he always got on well with Katy Manning, I suspect he was always very much in charge even if only by stature, and he couldn't have done the same casual physical dominance with Walker. Obviously she wouldn't have had much influence over the scripts (only the star ever got that), but… I like to think that that companion wasn't the straw-feminist "yes, Doctor, no, Doctor" echo-figure that Sarah Jane sometimes became in the (literal) shadow of Pertwee. She was a genuinely self-confident woman of the 1970s, and her reaction to a whole new world was to learn about it. In fact, regular readers will be unsurprised to learn, I want retroactively to bring back someone who acts a lot like Liz Shaw.

But not a scientist this time; part of the problem with Liz as a narrative role was that the Doctor had no excuse for explaining real science to her, only the doubletalk. So I want a smart, curious non-scientist. An historian? An art expert? A philosopher? There are plenty of knowledge-based roles which don't involve reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. With Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks both in the throes of retirement from their positions of authority, Robert Holmes (who wrote Spearhead from Space, let's not forget) could have sneaked in a really smart, interesting female character.

Yeah, all right, he probably wouldn't have done it.

The Time Warrior

New title sequence (by Bernard Lodge)! New logo (the "classic" one for me). And the first use of the slit-scan "time tunnel" effect, replacing the feedback-based "howlaround".

Given his nature and occupation, Irongron is remarkably clean-cut. His double act with Linx is the main virtue of this story, with each regarding himself as the natural military master and only person who really matters.

Lots of location shooting round Peckforton Castle, which stood in for both castles here.

The shape of this story is an odd one: we see exactly what's going on, in the order it happens. By the end of part one, we know who all the good and bad guys are and what they want, and all that's really left is working out the implications, dancing back and forth between the castles, and sorting out the details. Which means that Holmes is free to write this as a romp; an odd approach, but it seems to have worked. He wrote the mediaval setting under protest (he insisted on no historical figures and a strong SF component). Just like the show's early historicals, it's a trip to Mediaevalland; but more like The Meddling Monk than The Crusades, it's mostly about how Mediaevalland interacts with Weird Science Stuff. Shades of the Connecticut Yankee.

Sarah Jane Smith starts off as a bit of a stereotyped feminist, and is rapidly cut down to Jo Grant size, first captured then hypnotised; and then she gets the wrong end of the stick too. If I were looking for the author's deep psychological problems I'd know where to start. Apart from that, though, it's pleasing that part of her error is that she hasn't read the story and so doesn't know who the Doctor is; that's a perfectly reasonable thing for her not to have done. What's more, she subverts the narrative expectation by saving the Doctor at least twice; it's not the one-sided relationship that one might have expected. And even when uselessly protesting, Sarah doesn't take the Doctor's guff the way Jo Grant did.

I like Rubeish, particularly his reaction to being displaced in time. That's the sort of person I like to see in this show.

Things do all fall apart a bit towards the end (and if the probic vent is so vulnerable, why not conceal it under armour?) but as an entry in the excellent series ten (which is effectively how it was made) this is a decent story. As an entry in series eleven it stands out like a ruby in muck.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs

The first episode was broadcast under the title Invasion to try to keep secret what the monster was. But good old reliable Radio Times spilled the beans as always.

London's invaded once more. This is something that's generally worked well for ths show, starting with The Dalek Invasion of Earth. And this starts well enough, but drags out the wandering around deserted London for rather longer than it needs to, and the mini-pteranodon attack isn't well-realised even in the black and white copy I have.

Suddenly, in this new production block, Pertwee seems old and tired (this was the first story filmed after Delgado's death). The script doesn't help. Once the Doctor and Sarah Jane are caught, he makes no effort at all to establish his credentials; he just goes along for the ride, then tells his story in the most unconvincing possible way once it's too late for it to do any good.

The dinosaur puppets, particularly the tyrannosaurus rex, are famously not up to much; it's rather more Godzilla than Jurassic Park. I don't find this as unconvincing as many people apparently do; but then, I've seen and enjoyed Godzilla. It is unfortunate that the dinosaurs were only used at all because Clifford Culley of Westbury Design and Optical convinced the BBC that he could do them realistically!

The staged revelation of villainy is superbly handled: first Mike Yates, continuing his fall from The Green Death, then General Finch, then finally Sir Charles. It's a pity that this is done in the latter two cases by the process of Sarah trusting them and being betrayed, but it's still a good piece of story-telling. Then there's the wrench of the spaceship, out of nowhere.

But we also get the Whomobile, constructed at Pertwee's own expense when the BBC refused to pay for it; it's a lovely design, but it really doesn't fit in this show. And we get the bad guys, recognising the Doctor as a threat and having him inside their base, who decide to kill him by letting him out and summoning a dinosaur. Hint, guys: send in your goon squad to kill him first, then turn the dinosaur loose on the carrion once he's safely dead and some distance from your lair. Nobody's likely to look too closely at the body, and even if they do what can they learn from it?

Things do slump a bit with the side plot about getting the Doctor arrested as the villain behind the whole business, and the padding nature of this is only accentuated by the counter-shot scenes where Sarah Jane really comes into her own, working out what's going on and solving the spaceship puzzle without assistance. I've complained on previous occasions about the show's tendency to split up the TARDIS crew, but in some of these recent stories the only chance the companion has had to shine is to get away from the Doctor.

One does slightly wonder how the colonists were going to be moved from "you have just woken up inside the spaceship" to "you are now on your new world". Did the conspirators build a convincing outside model as well? How would that have been separated from the rubble of central London that had also been carried back in the time field? And wouldn't they have wanted to strip the ship for equipment? Surely it would have been easier to keep them all unconscious until after the "arrival"? Still, the story is a pleasing counterpart to The Green Death: it's not whether you're on the "right" side that matters, it's what you do about it.

Peter Miles is excellent again as the supercilious scientist Whitaker; one feels that the reversal of time is really only important to him as a minor side effect of the confirmation of his theories. The rest of the cast is generally good, though Pertwee sometimes seems to be growing impatient to be away.

This was Hulke's last story for the show. After an unimpressive but interesting start doctoring The Faceless Ones, he hit his stride with The War Games and particularly his Pertwee stories, starting with Doctor Who and the Silurians. Colony in Space and Frontier in Space have been high points for me, while The Sea Devils and The Ambassadors of Death were less impressive. Hulke worked on novelisations for a few years, and died in 1979 after a short illness.

Death to the Daleks

Gloom! Doom! Despondency! A prefiguring of the gothic horror era that would come in when Robert Holmes took over as script editor (a job he did for this story, in fact). And of course Sarah Jane's been instantly toned down into a panicky twit; this is a Terry Nation script after all, and Terry likes his women soft and fuzzy. She never even gets to see the inside of the Exxilon city, with the Doctor taking along an expendable local to do the job that should be hers.

This is a bit more original than Planet of the Daleks, though it has similarities: the Doctor and companion, Daleks, and good-guy humans, all on a planet with its own natives and secrets. This time the natives' secret is a bit more interesting; and the Daleks, being disarmed, also become more so, at least briefly until they re-arm themselves. Unfortunately the late plot really comes down to a series of puzzles, and I don't just mean getting into the city: Sarah's solving her own with the sacks full of sand.

The Daleks are odd here, and not just when they can't resort to their usual approach (exterminate them all, Skaro will know its own). They have a tendency to shuffle and bounce around even when they're not talking. In terms of the plot, they seem almost superfluous; a perfectly good four-parter could have been had without them, and it's been suggested that as with Day of the Daleks they were added to an existing outline (though details are likely to remain unclear). Still, it's a nice touch that the generic target when they're testing new weapons is a TARDIS model, and the line "they must continue to believe there are only four of us" is perhaps a ribbing at the continuing small number of workable Dalek props that the BBC owned. (Though really, monopolising the cure to a plague to extract other concessions? Real Daleks let the plague kill everyone, then invade and exterminate anything still moving.)

The Exxilons are unfortunately generically savage, but fortunately the Daleks re-arm themselves and slaughter most of them before they have the chance to become too boring. Even so, most of the expedition into the caves is a long-winded way of introducing the good Exxilons.

The humans aren't terribly impressive: yes, heroic sacrifice, ho hum. None of them really stands out.

The city as intelligence test is a good idea, if reminiscent of The Krotons, but seems to cheat: there's no way to solve the ornamental floor trap without trial and error. On the other hand the melting effect of its destruction (acetone, I assume) is excellent.

Pertwee seems to be getting increasingly bored here, just going through the motions at times, and it was during filming of this story that he announced his decision to leave the show.

Daleks now move by "psychokinetic power", apparently. Which is all very well, in that some excuse is needed to keep the Daleks mobile, but it's a very big change for very small gain. And Daleks now go into self-destruct mode the instant they think a prisoner has escaped? Oh dear, oh dear.

Music is a bit too heavy on the saxophones for my taste. It's by Carey Blyton again, who'd previously scored Doctor Who and the Silurians. Less crumhorn this time, but the little scraps of tune are still annoying.

The Monster of Peladon

Same scriptwriter, director, and designer; even many of the same props (those hinged torch-holders). But, even if inspired by the 1973 miners' strike, it's not as tight as the Curse, perhaps because most of Brian Hayles' original script (set rather earlier and still with King Peladon, but with Ortron and Eckersley trying to turn the world independent as a profit-making scheme – very much closer to the original plot, in fact) was abandoned by Terrance Dicks who thought the political shenanigans were getting too complex.

The step down starts with the miners' really blatant wigs. The aristos' dye-jobs were, and still are, viable enough, but the miners seem more like something out of The Web Planet.

The basic plot is an interesting one, though once it becomes apparent that there is a saboteur/traitor it mostly becomes a matter of finding him. And that takes a while. The chancellor (and apparently high priest as well, a concentration of power that one feels should have been resisted) is an early false lead who wastes most of parts 2-3.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of illuminated maps in the show at the moment? The "mine system" map here (which includes the throne and conference rooms for some reason), and the bunker in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

Queen Thalira comes over somehow as much more of a wimp than the only mildly fey King Peladon. I think it's something about her face and makeup. I suppose it's meant as a reasonable starting point for Sarah to do the whole feminism spiel, but I just can't see her anyone taking her seriously. Why hasn't she been quietly deposed or married off well before now? Her servant looks much more plausible as an actual queen. Even after she's had her consciousness raised, she still feels ineffectual and fragile.

Believing the Doctor's dead, three separate times in a single story, is just a bit too much, I fear. Sarah and the Doctor really don't seem to have much rapport; it's back to the early days of Jo Grant as far as Pertwee's acting is concerned, and even for the script.

There's something about Ice Warriors as foes that leads to a quite unusually bloodthirsty Doctor; as in The Seeds of Death, he's gaily slaughtering them all over the place.

Yet again, everyone forgets that guns are ranged weapons, and work much better if you don't stand so close to your target that he can take it off you before you can fire.

But really the basic problem here is that it's a six-parter. The change of pace when the Ice Warriors arrive helps a bit, but it isn't the multi-phase approach that we've seen in some earlier extended stories.

Planet of the Spiders

This story is known for being the last of Pertwee, but I like to think of it also as the conclusion of the "Downfall of Mike Yates" trilogy, following The Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Yates as a backup action man never really got very far (he wasn't terribly convincing, see for example The Mind of Evil, and Benton was always more interesting), and it's only been in these last three stories that he's developed anything like a personality of his own. It's not much of one even then.

The early scenes at the monastery, in particular, are very reminiscent of the sort of "investigation of occult nasty" show that was popular at the time, in the broad trail left by Dennis Wheatley and general interest in "new age" things. It's the modern-for-1974 equivalent of the Satanic Vicar from The Daemons. That this has as its counter-story the ESP and psychometry demonstrations in the lab just reinforces the new-ageiness of the whole affair. It's a tendency that the show has mostly stayed clear of, but Barry Letts was an enthusiast for all things mysterious and particularly Buddhist, and took this last chance to work his interest into the show.

Tommy the natural is a bit heavy-handed, but it's not as though any other writer was doing much better with depictions of the mentally damaged. This is the fourth and final successive Robert Sloman (plus uncredited Barry Letts) season-ender, intended one assumes to be another knockout like The Daemons (and not a squib like The Time Monster).

The Brigadier hits his low point here, having effectively become a buffoon for Pertwee to prove wrong. He hasn't been much cop all series, in fact.

Pertwee's vehicle fetish is for once subverted, when the Whomobile is stolen -- but only for the Doctor to get an even sillier vehicle (a Campbell Cricket G-AXVK, built in 1970 and still airworthy in 2013) for the inevitable chase. The Whomobile flies, how else, though poor CSO (and careful cuts so that we don't actually have to see it taking off or landing); and then, instead of continuing the pursuit in the air, we get the silliness of the hovercraft (doubtless great fun, but clearly unable to keep up with the boat any time they're both in the same shot).

That chase ends up using around half of part 2. ending with the simple resolution: Lupton escapes with the crystal. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas Doctor Who. The story suffered in production, with material being pulled from parts 5 and 6 to fill running-time gaps in parts 3 and 4; this may explain the weak cliffhangers, and the extended reprise of the end of part 5 at the start of part 6 (which one would think had enough material to get through without that).

But even without that, things start to sag almost at once; there's the core of a good story here, and in theory the meditation centre could have formed one part while the fight against the spiders on Metebelis 3 could have made up the other. But it still all gets thoroughly drawn out, and when we reach Metebelis 3 we discover its human colonists were apparently drawn exclusively from drama school rejects. Oh dear.

(And presumably there's some sort of time linkage between 1974 Earth and far-future Metebelis. Once more the show treats time travel as a sort of jump between parallel streams that advance at the same rate, rather than forward and back within the same stream. It's narratively easy, but a terrible waste of the idea of time travel.)

In the end, the principal villains are remarkably petty: Lupton the failed salesman, and the "I shall be the ruler of the entire universe" Great One. They happen to have great power, but that isn't enough to make them interesting. I can readily see a non-Metebelis version of this story as an episode of the UNIT Show.

As for the regeneration (finally named as such) itself, it's rather more blatantly foreshadowed than the last two. For Hartnell it seemed like an afterthought at the end of the Cybermen; for Troughton it was an explicit punishment. Here, for the first time, it's talked about extensively in the episode before it actually takes place, and in many respects the whole story is a farewell to the Pertwee era (bringing back many of the things that characterise it, both good and bad) and to Pertwee specifically.

I think in retrospect that I'd have downplayed the Metebelis side and pushed the mystical even further: more of K'anpo and Cho-je upbraiding the Doctor, less of the generic human fighters (who don't in the end achieve anything for themselves anyway).

At least we don't have the sort of complication that would come up later surrounding Tom Baker's departure, or the nonsense about "regeneration energy" that would be invented for the revived series. To me, regeneration should be important but not the focus of the show; it's a blatant device for getting a new actor in, and if you push too hard on it it will break. Tying too many other things to it just risks pulling it apart.

Overall impressions

So that was Pertwee. He left, he claimed, for several reasons: the departure of Katy Manning, the death of Roger Delgado, and the retirement of Barry Letts as producer. (His request for a huge pay rise was also turned down. I'm sure that wasn't a factor at all.) All of that happened before this last series of his was filmed, and he often seems to be acting strictly by the numbers, just marking time until he can collect his money and go. (With the exception of The Time Warrior, which was filmed at the end of the previous year's production block before all these decisions had been taken, even before Delgado had died.)

If Patrick Troughton was the actor's Doctor, Jon Pertwee was the patronising Doctor. Paternalistic, argumentative, very often petty; the show has often seemed to be enjoyable in spite of rather than because of his presence.

The era was a huge change from the first six series, of course. But it's also had internal changes, as it moved back cautiously towards the free-roaming format but from rather a different angle and still with plenty of Earthbound stories.

I haven't been talking much about production team changes the way I did in the first few series reviews, and that's because ever since the excellent series 6 they'd been stable: Barry Letts as producer, Terrance Dicks as script editor. They'd successfully reinvented the show in series 7, then again in series 10, but stayed in position themselves. Letts stayed on for the first of Tom Baker's stories; Dicks stepped down as script editor after Planet of the Spiders.

Favourite story of this series: The Time Warrior.

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:11pm on 16 March 2014

    I think this was the first series I saw any of as a child. For a while in the Tom Baker years I was under the impression that the doctor regenerated but the companion was always Sarah Jane. I was quite upset when Sarah Jane left, and she's still my favourite companion from Classic Who (though I also like Ace, anyone using a baseball bat and an RPG on Daleks gets my vote). My views on Sarah Jane are almost certainly formed from the Baker era, I doubt the end of Pertwee era had much effect on that.

    Would I have liked earlier Classic Who companions as much as Sarah Jane had I been born in an earlier era? Well Sarah Jane had longevity in the series on her side. Based on what you've said on this blog I think I would have liked Zoe, but Wendy Padbury only stayed for one series (admittedly a long one).

    Ah well, on to Tom Baker who in many ways is my favourite doctor, but I also like Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy in different ways. I also like that Davison and McCoy have alwas been up for cameos and returns, in the way that the two Bakers weren't since both got the hump over leaving and couldn't let it go.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:28pm on 16 March 2014

    While this particular series was for me Pertwee's low point, I've had mixed feelings about him all through the re-watch. Tom Baker is a remarkable change, quite apart from being the one I grew up with.

    Jo Grant was the longest-serving companion, but her role, characterisation and competence have been all over the place as different scriptwriters took different approaches to her.

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