Chrisno1's Retrospective of Classic Doctor Who



  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Five


    Sniggeringly referred to as O-O-Who or Dr Who Does James Bond, David Whitaker’s The Enemy of the World is a disappointment. It starts off rivetingly well with a high octane chase involving a helicopter, a hovercraft, murder, men and guns, a leather-clad girl, some slick karate moves and a climatic explosion. This happens at breakneck speed and sets us up for – well, what, exactly?

    The major premise of the serial is that the Doctor resembles almost identically the world’s leading politician, a man who has singlehandedly taken control of the Suncatcher weather system and is considered the saviour of the world, providing four annual harvests where once there were none. Australian Giles Kent and his Cathy Gale style accomplice Astrid believe Salamander is something more sinister and want the Doctor to impersonate the would-be world dictator to uncover the evidence. This in itself should have been enough for a great future-based espionage story. Except it’s never exploited to its potential. Only at the very end is the doppelganger ruse properly delivered and by then all the spy-work has been done by everybody else. In fact, the Doctor is virtually written out for the second and third episodes while Victoria and Jamie do their version of Nancy Drew and a Hardy Boy. Latterly the writers provide a ridiculous subplot about scientists holed up in an atomic bunker provoking natural disasters under the mistaken belief they are preventing the onset of war following a nuclear holocaust which has kept them buried for five years. This takes some believing. It also extends an already creaking run time by an extra two episodes.

    [Point of order: the producers seem to have developed an obsession with the weather. The Moonbase and The Ice Warriors both also suggest scientists will create methods of controlling mother nature in an attempt to increase food supplies. Exactly how these three different methods interlink is never explained. One assumes as one system failed, another replaced it. Man does not learn from his mistakes then…]

    Despite some sterling efforts, the serial falls down under the yoke of its dialogue, which, while occasionally astute, lacks impact, unless you include everyone’s senseless shouting. Whitaker never lets his characters explain anything. He’s more interested in allowing Patrick Troughton to perfect a Mexican accent, wear a Toreador’s outfit and prance about playing the spiteful, manipulative Salamander. Troughton is quite good portraying the dictator’s incessant megalomania. You do feel he’s escaped from a spaghetti western though, especially at the climax when he pursues arch rival Giles Kent brandishing a gun and sneering at his adversary’s misfortune. Most of the cast give it a good whack and it’s fun to have a serial which isn’t packed with monsters and too much dodgy science.

    The piece looks good too, stupidly titchy underground dwellings aside. There’s no real fault in the production values. Sometime writer / script editor / producer Barry Letts directs with a verve for action set-pieces, of which there are several. Also in its favour is an Orwellian view of the future of Earth, a splendid final confrontation between the Doctor and his doppelganger nemesis – at the end of which Salamander is sucked into space like Hugo Drax in Moonraker – and a superb light-hearted cameo from Reg Lyes as Griffin, a chef whose day goes from bad to worse to terrible.

    Once considered a lost serial, The Enemy of the World was rediscovered in 2013. It is great to see another full Troughton adventure at last. Such a pity about the ridiculously gullible scientists and the sheer length of the thing:

    3 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Five


    The Web of Fear begins with chaos in the TARDIS. The evil megalomaniac Salamander has started dematerialisation while the doors are still open and been sucked into space. The Doctor is fighting for control of the ship. This short, exciting sequence really ought to have been hooked onto the end of the previous adventure, The Enemy of the World. There was certainly time, as chapter six of that serial only lasted twenty-one minutes. Nevertheless, it is a stunning beginning.

    Normality resumed, Jamie accuses the Doctor of not being able to command the TARDIS; an old joke, but in this case true as a strange web-like substance has entrapped the ship, suspending it in space and time. Meanwhile in London, Professor Travers [a returning Jack Watling from The Abominable Snowmen] has reactivated a Yeti control sphere, only to have the unit vanish. He fears the sphere will reanimate a museum-piece robot Yeti; this proves well-founded. London soon becomes enveloped in a cobweb of fungus spreading from and through the Underground rail network. Having freed the TARDIS, the Doctor and his companions arrive in London on the deserted Tube platform at Covent Garden and quickly learn the army is fighting a losing battle in the tunnels against hordes of Yeti.

    As with The Ice Warriors, we are once again introduced swiftly and effectively to the story arc, the setting and the main characters. There is hardly a wasted moment. It intrigues, suspends our sense of belief and excites us. The gloomy, creepy voids of the train tunnels are superbly realised, as are the dusty, functional army headquarters in an old wartime bunker beneath Goodge Street. Silverstein’s crowded museum is a fantastically gothic setting for a Yeti to come alive and commit gruesome murder. Hats off all-round to David Myerscough-Jones and his production team, Ron Oates for the F/X and editors Philip Barniker and Colin Hobson, who cut and paste with some aplomb. The classic horror film settings of tunnels and caves have been dressed up for Dr Who and padded out with cobwebs, fog-like mist, crazy scientists, scared soldiers, reanimated corpses, shadows, darkness and close-ups of terror. It’s a heady, petrifying mix, made frightening not by the Yeti, but by the ordinariness of their surroundings. The Yeti are, in fact, much more intimidating than before simply because they have been placed in such familiar environments. Director Douglas Camfield spends a lot of time trying not to show them in long shot. Inevitably he does, but the Mark II Yetis have become vicious automatons, emitting ear-splitting howls, thrashing huge, claw-fingered paws and being far faster movers. They even carry web-spouting hand guns. The Great Intelligence has learnt lessons it appears!

    There proceeds a lot of running back and forth through tunnels. People are killed. Inevitably Victoria is kidnapped. The Doctor, Travers and Travers’ scientist daughter Ann [Tina Packer, good, rational] struggle to foil the Great Intelligence. The army fails to contain the Yeti. Nicholas Courtney makes his first appearance as Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, Colonel in the British army, and takes command of the beleaguered soldiers. He strikes up an immediate rapport with the Doctor, one which is based as much on distrust as on honesty. Courtney’s less spiky than he was as Bret Vyon in The Daleks’ Masterplan, but no less effective because of it. This is the foundation stone of a soon to be long-standing friendship. The story sustains itself so well over the six episodes you can hardly pick out the padding; perhaps the long winded street battle between the army squad and the Yeti, or episode two, where the Doctor is missing, believed dead, or the dull scenes of incarceration in episodes 5 & 6. This time the bumps don’t hurt much because they’re so cleverly disguised.

    There are some great moments of dialogue provided by writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. A journalist is accused of distorting the truth. [Really? Who’d have thought it?] Two soldiers debate the origins of the Yeti as if it’s all a conspiracy theory: aliens or soviet agents? An off-screen massacre is brutally relayed through a telephone handset, gunfire, explosions, death cries and all. Pvt Evans [Derek Pollitt, cheerfully evasive] tries every trick in the book to avoid confronting the enemy. Best of all, asked to describe the Great Intelligence, the Doctor is framed in extreme close up; a superb piece of camerawork emphasising the sinister malice inherent in an alien entity. Troughton’s so good here it’s obvious this is a comment not only on the Great Intelligence, but also on the power of the Doctor and his, as yet unnamed, race. 

    The story’s as woolly as a Yeti. It is, for instance, rather negligent not to explain who built and how long it took to build the alien control centre as well as all those Yeti. We have to assume the Great Intelligence has added time bending and construction to its repertoire since events in Tibet! The tidy resolution, including a climatic explosion, virtually replicates that which closed The Abominable Snowmen. It is deliberately designed to provide the possibility of sequels which never came. The last episode does tend to sag which is disappointing because up to then there’s always been something [e.g. a neat special effect] or someone [the cast is universally excellent] worth watching. The adventure is set in 1975, which seems cheerfully fey now; at least Victoria’s wardrobe choice of a fashionable flimsy hippy dress and beads can’t be laughed at because of it. One episode is missing, but this doesn’t really hurt our enjoyment.

    The Web of Fear is an old-fashioned serial in that it preys mostly on traditional suspicions, of the dark, of capture, of control, of claustrophobia, of pursuit, of monsters, of the deadly, alien unknown. It is essentially a monster movie in a horror film setting with a sci-fi twist. During the first few seasons of Dr Who the show hasn’t often chosen purely to entertain, when it does and when it does it well, the results, as here, can be hugely satisfying.

    A well-deserved:

    4 from 5.     

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Five


    Nominally set only a few years in the future, Victor Pemberton’s Fury from the Deep repeats the familiar ‘those in peril’ format, transposing the endangered group of misfits into a gas drilling complex off the coast of South England. What it does differently, and to brilliant effect, is to have the invasive alien be an existing life-form, one which inhabits the cool sea waters surrounding the British Isles, one familiar from old Celtic legends, one with a latent, malicious intelligence held in check only by the non-proliferation of natural gas. It is humankind’s need for these gasses and their subsequent extraction which re-enlivens this dangerous seaweed creature. The idea that man is responsible for his own troubles has never been so prominently presented. If there is an early advert for the ‘green’ agenda, this is surely it.

    The serial starts with another brilliant opening chapter as the TARDIS crash lands into the sea and the travellers come under suspicion for sabotage at the nearby Euro Sea Gas Corporation installation. Tensions are running high due to malfunctions with in the Impeller separation system. Masses of expanding foam, stinging flakes of seaweed, pulsations within the pipelines, conflicts between the managers and scientists, the strange behaviour of two technicians, deadly toxic gases and marauding marine growths contribute to the heady, oppressive atmosphere, made all the more claustrophobic by being confined to the on shore power plant. There is no spectacular futuristic space setting, nor even tunnels or caves. This is a very identifiable world, where contemporary characters are battling an enemy unseen, unable to fathom its properties or intents. The Doctor enters this maelstrom of chaos and uses his out-of-world experiences to unravel the problem with gravitas and assurance.

    This is probably Patrick Troughton’s finest sway as the Doctor. He remains superb throughout, virtually humourless in a virtually humourless story, giving no rein to the pantomime antics which so bedevilled his earliest shows. Instead he carries the action with authority, explaining his actions and intentions, investigating with dexterity and clearheadedness, making difficult decisions appropriately and coercing his allies through influence and verbal persuasion. He’s present for the whole story – no holiday duck-outs this time out – and fills the role of hero stupendously. Perhaps best of all is the concern he shows for others, firstly for Maggie Harris [June Murphy, superb,] then for Robson, the Operations Manager [Victor Madden, excellently superb] lastly for his own dear Victoria [Deborah Watling, screamingly superb].

    Indeed the performances appear universally first-rate. The argumentative technicians Harris [Roy Spenser], Chief Engineer [Hubert Rees] and Van Lutyens [John Abineri] are fantastic, biting and scrapping with themselves and Robson, their tensions increasing as the crisis deepens. The appearance of a female Government Director, played by the icily efficient Margaret Johns, only heightens the dynamic, bringing the wider, financial and political, implications of the refinery’s failure into the decision-making process. At this point, people’s lives become expendable and it is now that the Doctor’s pro-life agenda begins to take centre stage as he tries to rescue Victoria [the poor girls’ been kidnapped again!] and resolve a worsening situation.

    Additionally Pemberton has crafted a neat little mind-control trick for the ‘seaweed creature’ [it’s never named, which is disappointing] and two technicians are acting with a disturbing, serene superficiality. Quill and Oak, with their almost leering, simpleton, grinning faces, their careful movements, their gentle, subservient persuasive voices, are the very representation of a benign evil. The scene where they attack Maggie with alarming slowness, their open, soundless, screaming mouths emitting poison gas is magnificently chilling. This horrific and peril-filled development isn’t quite utilised enough and, if anything, the script does tie itself in knots, first by not giving the ‘seaweed creature’ an explicit goal and secondly by providing it with several changeable methods of attack, none of which seems to relate to the other.

    Despite this, the story bounds along with purpose and drive. The episode cliff-hangers are uniformly fine. Of particular note and high merit is the mysterious climax to episode 3, when an alien afflicted Robson watches Maggie Harris drown herself. John Maddern is fantastic in this dual role, bringing more humanity to his personality when under alien influence than he had without; just all-round brilliant.

    [This scene is reminiscent of our old friend James Bond watching Tracy during the prologue of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Additionally, the idea of sound vibrations in a faulty pipe was later used during the San Francisco scenes in A View to a Kill. There’s even a helicopter chase of some competence. Another courteous nod to modern spy films comes when the Doctor wealds a nifty little tool called a Sonic Screwdriver. This is the very first appearance in Dr Who of a soon-to-be ubiquitous gadget.]

    The adventure flags a tad towards its finale. The Doctor rescues Victoria and gets to escape in and pilot the helicopter. This latter extended piece of hokum doesn’t work quite so well. In fact by now it all feels an episode too long. The tremendously tense and satisfying chapter 5 with the ‘seaweed creature’ rampant, the control centre disintegrating, Victoria in danger and the helicopter pursuit climaxing atop a refinery is pinnacle enough. The conclusion itself is a drawn out affair which lacks suspense and spends most of its runtime allowing Deborah Watling to shine as the permanently anxious Victoria making difficult decisions.

    More than any other companion, Victoria has had the roughest experience of time travel. She’s been constantly menaced, kidnapped, knocked out or intimidated. She yearns for something pleasant to happen. I don’t blame her. The actress too must surely have felt hamstrung by the repetitive nature of the scripts which featured scene after scene of her whimpering, screaming and crying. In some stories it became a noticeable distraction. Midway through Fury from the Deep, the Doctor realises all is not well with his young friend and in another classic head-to-head Victoria reflects on her time in the TARDIS and whether it’s a life she can really aspire too. This is a great scene and neatly refers us back to a similar heart-to-heart in The Tomb of the Cybermen. Victoria needed more reassurance and coaxing than any previous companion. Her permanently terrified demeanour is entirely reasonable. She’s probably been more human and realistic in her reactions to impending circumstances than anyone else. Unfortunately this also makes her somewhat one-dimensional. The similar machinations of the plots during Season Five didn’t help her character development either. It is with some sorrow that she decides to leave the TARDIS. Jamie is deeply affected. Their concern for each other shone through clearly and it was good of the writers to allow the two youngsters a tender moment alone to end her tenure.     

    Unfortunately for fans of Victoria, most of this review is conjecture as Fury from the Deep is a completely lost story, with mere snippets of filmic evidence available to view. What there is via Loose Cannon productions looks and sounds phenomenal. The brief sequence of Van Lutyens investigating the Impeller pipe has the air of impending doom to it; Jamie and the Doctor’s escape from the onrushing, bubbling, pulsating, toxic foam is thrill-a-second stuff, Quill and Oak are freakily, scarily weird. I will concede however that the climatic sequence of a ‘seaweed creature’ threshing about doesn’t work too well and, like the humanoid-looking monster at the end of Ridley Scott’s Alien, this is a step too far; less here really would have meant more.

    The show was minimally, brilliantly realised by designer Peter Kinred. It’s hard to appreciate Hugh David’s direction, the use of location footage and any editing or camerawork without the evidence before us. I’d like to hope they’re well above average, for from what I can interpret, Fury from the Deep certainly is:

    4 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Five


    The Season Five finale repeats for a sixth time during the run the ‘those in peril’ format and, to be honest, it is the weakest of the six and a very tame adventure indeed.  

    David Whitaker wrote a complicated script based on an idea by Kit Pedlar which is basically a rehash of The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase as the Cybermen pull out all their convoluted stops in an attempt to invade Earth. This time they plan to use the radio beam of the deep space station Wheel 3 as a guidance system for their cyber fleet. You’d think they wouldn’t need one, but anyway…

    The story kicks off with the Doctor and Jamie making a forced landing inside an empty space ship. This is a remarkable two-hander – almost the whole episode is given over to their investigations on board – but the standard can’t be maintained and once the action transfers to Wheel 3 things get extremely complicated and mind-numbingly tedious. Flaws in the plot start as early as episode two and keep coming.

    The adventure’s production values are strong. The F/X are a step up; a noble mention then for Bill King and his department. Good design from David Dodd for the space ship interiors. There’s some reasonable model work. In fact, the Wheel seems to have inspired Drax’s space station from Moonraker. It’s great to see a big control room with lots of technicians in evidence. And the Earth’s space programme is still a multinational, multi-ethnic, gender equal environment. No one seems to be taught history in the future though, as nobody has heard of the Cybermen despite their two previous failed invasions. Like Clent in The Ice Warriors, humans have developed a reliance on logic and probability and have brainwashed adolescents into becoming logisticians, which harks neatly back to Klieg’s Brotherhood in The Tomb of the Cybermen. Martin Baugh’s costumes are a trifle tight on the ladies figures; they all seem very bosomy and buttocky. A lot of sixties haircuts are in evidence. This time out, the Cybermen aren’t nearly dynamic enough and I still can’t hear their voices. They’ve acquired a Cyber Planner, a strange, static, brain-like creature who does all their thinking. This turns the Cybermen on the ground into little more than foot soldiers. A very poor outing for these classic and classy monsters.

    The story’s noteworthy for the introduction of Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot the Wheel’s parapsychologist, astrophysicist, astrometricist, logistician and mathematician. She’s so smart she can calculate quicker than a computer. What she lacks is any human emotion. A few episodes hanging around with Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe’s soon questioning her isolated upbringing which ultimately leads her to abandon her career and jump ships into the TARDIS. Zoe is a stark contrast to Victoria; in fact she’s dramatically different to every female companion so far [excluding possibly Barbara Wright] as not only does she appear mature, but she’s also scientifically intelligent. She’s already a foil for the Doctor, who quips: “Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority.”

    Two points of note. Jamie provides the Doctor with another name, John Smith [as opposed to Foreman, Caligari, Who or Zeus]. Also, the script details a burgeoning outer space office romance between Clare Jenkins’ saucy Russian geek Tanya and Eric Flynn’s commander, Leo [Eric Flynn is Errol Flynn’s son, which is interesting, but not important]. It’s fun to see the subtle hints of sexual behaviour between characters on the show, not for exploitive reasons, but more to suggest that life always goes on, even in the future and under tremendous pressures.

    Not that there’s much tension going on here. Blame rests firmly with the helmsman Tristan der Vere Cole. His work is leaden beyond belief. Only two episodes survive and they reveal a distinct lack of directorial ambition to The Wheel in Space.

    A very bland:

    2 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Five


    Patrick Troughton’s first season as Dr Who struggled as it attempted to define his characterisation and apply that to a series of underwhelming stories. Those difficulties seem to have been eradicated in Season Five. In terms of the pure quality of each adventure, it’s fair to say this is Dr Who’s most rewarding season yet. Taking as a template the ‘those in peril’ format which worked so well in its forerunners The Tenth Planet and The Power of the Daleks, the producers have developed a robust formula which they’ve readapted to provide a consistent level of filmic achievement. There is hardly a wrong step, at least not until the slightly humdrum finale of The Wheel in Space and even there we still have a few remarkable moments. The basic storyline remains intact for six of the seven stories and while this does get noticeably repetitious, the ability of the writers to provide new monsters, new settings [mostly earth-bound however] and new circumstances has to be championed. Several new nemesis have been introduced. A special mention must go to the wardrobe department, who have excelled themselves this season, not only with the human outfits, but the aliens too; the Ice Warriors in particular deserve credit. While there are some regular narrative difficulties, these are generally overcome by a keen eye for suspense and dramatic action. Character has not been forgotten and a good deal of time is concentrated on the support roles, developing relationships, rivalries and conflicts. The humour has become subtle and will now calm a scene rather than overegging it. The standard of serial has been consistently high. I leave Season Five an exceptionally happy bunny.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    At the end of The Wheel in Space, the Doctor uses the TARDIS memory scanner for Zoe’s benefit, in case she, like Victoria, feels unable to cope with the constant attrition of his galaxy-bound adventures. This was a clever insert by the producers which allowed them to fill the transmission gap between Seasons 5 and 6 with a repeat of The Evil of the Daleks, which became the first ever repeated serial on Dr Who. The recap doesn’t appear to have put her off. In fact Zoe seems even more perky and inquisitive than before.

    The Dominators starts with a brilliant opening space-scape as a phalanx of alien craft approach the insignificant planet Dulkis. It’s all downhill from there. The closeup model work of a flying saucer [again!] is wholly inadequate. The first appearance of Navigator Rago and Probationer Tova, the two Dominators assigned to destroy the planet by converting it to radioactive matter, is underwhelming. These are supposed to be soldiers of the Masters of the Ten Galaxies, but they arrive by stealth and seem to have no knowledge – physical, environmental or economic – of the planet they’ve landed on. They also have an army of silly looking robots called Quarks who, despite their obvious power, have no artificial intelligence of their own and are easily bested. They can’t even do manual labour and a band of captured students have to be used as slaves to clear a drilling site. You’d have thought the Quarks could have just blasted away at the rocks with their laser guns as it seems no problem blowing up a very extensive atomic research facility.

    Dulkis has a pacifist civilisation. Weapons have become obsolete, although they have performed atomic testing, hoping to utilise nuclear fission as a power source. They are apparently phenomenally advanced, but they don’t believe in extra-terrestrial lifeforms, have a parliamentary council system based upon debate rather than decision and have possibly the worst fashion designers in Dr Who history. The men wear odd, crimped togas and the women don bathing suits and see-through aprons. Even Zoe remarks: “They don’t seem very practical.” Too right. Mind you, the Dominators share equally bad attire, crammed as they are into turtle-like shoulder pads.

    Oh, where to go with this one…

    After a rocky start the bitter relationship between the two villains takes shape. Ronald Allen and Kenneth Ives have fun chewing the scenery and verbally battering each other. Tova’s self-gratifying violent instincts appear to be at fault, but by the end of the story, it is Rago’s more considered approach which prevents the Dominators fiery scheme from succeeding. There’s a lot of amusement watching the Dulkis council attempt to reach any sort of decision. Progress here has ground to halt; as Arthur Cox’s not-so-young rebel Cully says to Zoe: “I can tell you’re not from Dulkis. You ask questions!” When an expert in emergency planning informs the council of its three choices – fight, submit or flee – they opt to wait. Senex, the council elder, reflects bitterly: “We can do nothing. This is our tragedy.” Writer Norman Ashby does have a certain gift for penetrative dialogue, but he’s not so effective with the routine action, most of which is very humdrum. Despite a frantic finale, the whole piece felt too long by an episode.

    Director Morris Barry injects a couple of neat camera tricks. There’s a molecular gravitation wall which is a brilliantly realised alternative to chaining or caging prisoners. It also has the neat ability to revolve, thus converting instantly into an examination table. The deaths of the Quarks’ first victims are represented using a cut-out exposed negative of their features. This is very effective and chilling. Unfortunately it is never used again and every other moment of destruction or death comes with an explosion or a smoking corpse.

    The Dominators is an uninspired:

    2 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    The Mind Robber begins with possibly the most beguiling and bewildering episode ever put on film during the twenty six seasons of the Classic Series. It is at once completely unexpected, unexplainable and distinctly unique. It is also a triumph of tension and terror and features arguably the show’s greatest ever cliff hanger conclusion.

    To escape an onrushing lava flow [again – see The Daleks’ Masterplan] the Doctor activates an emergency stabilisation unit and dematerialises the TARDIS, removing it from the space / time continuum and out of normal reality. The travellers arrive in what appears to be nothing but white space. [It ought to be black, as in nothingness there would be no sun, but, hey…] Tempted by images of their homes, Zoe and Jamie venture outside into this world of white. This is an easy one for Evan Hercules’ design team, but it’s director David Maloney’s long shots which give authenticity to this stark unusual world, almost burying the companions in a sea of white. A radioactive crackling sound pursues them before being revealed as the functioning noise made by four mysterious white robots, which appear out of nowhere [of course, as there isn’t anywhere for them to appear from]. Meanwhile the Doctor is coming under mental attack; someone is attempting to invade his conscious. His hopeless situation is amplified by Maloney also filming the TARDIS interiors in long shot. As Patrick Troughton sits, writhing under torture, we see the whole expanse of the control room, recognising how large and forbidding it is and must be to anyone who enters it; a white womb of impossibility. Eventually reunited, the travellers attempt to leave the wasteland, only for the TARDIS to spiral out of control and disintegrate. Jamie and Zoe, clinging to the console, are hurtled screaming into space.

    Things are not quite as they appear and episode two sees the travellers somehow transported into a strange world of fabrication, which they at first fail to interpret. Fictional characters and events from famous written works [mostly it appears from Earth’s literary history] constantly appear and reappear, setting a series of challenges for the travellers to unravel. The second episode is a stark contrast to the opener as it is almost entirely filmed against black backgrounds. It still retains that tantalising air of mystery. Jamie is physically deconstructed – like the TARDIS – and the Doctor’s ham-fisted reconfiguration makes him look entirely different. Hats off to Hamish Wilson for his two episode impersonation of Mr McCrimmon. Zoe meanwhile is trapped in Alice in Wonderland style nightmares before being menaced by a Minotaur and a Gorgon and battling her favourite comic book character, Karkus. Wendy Padbury goes all Emma Peel on us here, tossing the giant Christopher Robbie about the soundstage while wearing a lame catsuit; this scene should be a fantasy all of its own. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s favourite traveller – Lemuel Gulliver [could it have been anyone else?] – appears offering out of place words of wisdom. Cleverly, his lines are lifted directly from Swift’s prose. Three episodes in and the audience is still trying to unravel what they’re witnessing.

    That it doesn’t really seem to matter is a credit to the writer and director, who have conjured a fascinating other-world of endless potential. As the Doctor remarks: “We may be in a place where nothing is impossible.” It’s disconcerting for the travellers, who struggle to grasp where they are and what they are doing, but it’s fun for the audience, who, equally perplexed, at least have the satisfaction of guessing at what the hell’s going on. It becomes apparent this strange, hallucinogenic wonder world of fairy tales hides a deadly secret.

    Writer Peter Ling was the creator of Crossroads, a long running television soap opera. Apparently he thought up the scenario for The Mind Robber after reading how fans of his show reacted to characters and stories as if they were real. Fiction becomes fact. Here, Ling both includes that premise and reverses it. To tempt and tease unsuspecting travellers, a single brilliant creative human mind, author of a 1920s cartoon strip, has been kidnapped and employed by an unseen and unnamed entity to give unreality true form. Once inside the world, a traveller forfeits his life if he or she places themselves inside the unreality. By believing in the fiction, they themselves cease to exist and live only within the fictional compass of stories. This is brilliantly demonstrated when Jamie and Zoe are crushed by an enormous book, returning only as a facsimile of themselves.  

    The story tails off a little towards the end. The reveal of the ‘Master’ is disappointing. He’s played with some glee by Emrys Hughes, but lacks any physical presence. Not in the least threatening, he’s basically a librarian. The real villain is the massive unnamed computer system that controls him. The designers cleverly make this resemble an enormous human brain. Its speculative ‘Earth invasion’ scheme feels unnecessary. While the idea of a computer developing divination and powers to mesmerise and control people has been touched on already [see The War Machines] it doesn’t fit seamlessly into the fantastical narrative that’s developed here. Having recently watched The Celestial Toymaker [from Season 3] it’s clear the producers missed an opportunity to bring back a relatively successful adversary. The Mind Robber is very similar to its forebear, but is much, much better, both in planning and execution. Both stories feature a familiar outcome: the Doctor defeats his antagonist in a battle of minds. The jumbled mess of literary characters which represent this conflict can almost be forgiven as what’s come before has been so successful.

    It’s difficult to explain The Mind Robber as science fiction as it’s quite obviously a fantasy tale. Does it deserve a place in the pantheon of great Dr Who adventures? Is it an adventure at all? It could, quite easily, be a dream: Jamie falls asleep in episode one and awakes to find the Doctor and Zoe fighting for control of the TARDIS. Are we party to his restless nightmare? As such, the flights of imagination make perfect sense. Given the era the show was written in, the rising impact of an underground drug culture, particularly prevalent in the artistic communities, has also to be considered. Was the idea to stimulate the mind through visual impressions rather than the non-sensorial effects of words? However you wish to interpret The Mind Robber, the show deserves plaudits for taking its audience outside the realm of expectation. Later sci-fi shows like Sapphire and Steel or Heroes, even recent series such as Devs and blockbusters like The Matrix, would also attempt to bend our perceptions of a normal futurist reality, of how we interpret what we see. Arguably this five-part, remarkably tight, Dr Who adventure is a forerunner of those and others and is hugely influential.

    [A footnote must be added regarding Bernard Horsfall, who plays Gulliver, and of course was Bond’s aide Shaun Campbell in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was the first of several appearances by him on the show. He’s rather good.] 

    I’ve seen this adventure three times and, even if it stumbles, it never fails to fascinate:

    5 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    For four episodes, Derrick Sherwin’s contemporary London-bound adventure The Invasion is pure super-spy: a secret base, a powerful megalomaniac villain, scientists and secret inventions, a vicious henchman, kidnappings, murders, shootouts, pursuits, helicopters, intrigue, suspense – we even have a couple of dolly birds and a John Barry-esque music score. And then the Cybermen appear.

    The producers threw a lot of money at The Invasion. It looks fabulous. Location shooting is widespread and effective. Alan Jonas’ photography is of particularly high quality, especially when the action moves into London’s shadowy sewers. A pity he’s not credited in the titles. A lot of stock footage of military hardware is used. The space craft model work is inventive. Bobi Bartlett’s revised Cybermen costumes are splendid, much more slender than before; so much so director Douglas Camfield can allow his monster actors to move like humanoids, not stop-motion robots. The sets are excellent. I was particularly impressed with Tobias Vaughn’s office which has the feel of a sixties’ Bond villain’s set, all those wide open spaces, big windows, a desk with control buttons, a secret wall panel, etc, etc.

    Kevin Stoney, returning for another scene chewing turn as a rampant madman, out-acts everyone just as he did in The Daleks’ Masterplan. He bestrides the story, stealing the show from the main players at every turn. His scenes with Patrick Troughton are reminiscent of OO7’s various confrontations with Blofeld. Stoney should be stroking a white cat, he’s that good. Unfortunately after supplying all the villainy for almost the whole serial, Tobias Vaughn is relegated to the hapless expendable stooge. The Cybermen never really needed him once the homing beacon to help them invade earth was activated. Disappointingly, the main Cyberman is another hybrid static version, similar to the Cyber Planner from The Wheel in Space, who communicates with armies we never see. Awkwardly, it isn’t clear if this adventure predates the original Cyber invasion witnessed in The Tenth Planet. One hopes not, as that would make a mockery of everything we witnessed there and rather dent any hope Dr Who chroniclers have of organising a workable timeline for the show.

    All the problems with the adventure revolve around the Cybermen. Despite a splendid reveal as they break menacingly from their cocoons, they don’t have enough to do and are easily destroyed by an ‘emotion machine’ and by Zoe’s calculations, which redirect missiles to cause maximum damage to the invasion fleet. The climax is tremendously pedestrian. Most of it happens off-screen. Given the serial’s length, it’s also surprising to find whole incidents in the second half completely edited out. Characters seem interchangeable, as do clothes.

    Apparently this was one of the first serials whose episodes were filmed ‘out-of-sequence’ which may explain the disjointed feel to the piece. Jamie and Zoe disappear for an episode or two, replaced in essence by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, a returning Nicholas Courtney, or Sally Faulkner’s sexy photographer Isobel Watkins. She provides a lot of bubbly fun and makes a good chick-mate for Zoe.

    There’s nothing really wrong with the second half of the adventure, but compared to the tension wracked early episodes where the intrigue surrounding International Electromatics is built up to a crescendo, the subsequent, fairly lifeless finale is almost unforgivable. Noticeable influences throughout are The Third Man, Blow Up, The Manchurian Candidate, James Bond, Harry Palmer, Quatermass and [obviously] The Dalek Invasion of Earth and 1950s sci-fi.    

    The Invasion is often viewed as a test run for the early seventies seasons, when earth-bound UNIT stories were de rigour. The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce is a clever and convenient invention, allowing monsters to be introduced without basing the adventures in the far future or in space. The military set up is well realised. In this adventure, the British H.Q. is based in a Hercules transport plane constantly circling the country. I was reminded of Nick Fury’s SHIELD base in Marvel’s Avengers and also of Anton Murik’s warplane from the climax of John Gardner’s Licence Renewed. The show’s repeated assertion that in the future governments and people will cooperate across borders and ideologies is nicely maintained: the Russians help out, Geneva controls the taskforce. It might have been fun to have foreign staff among the Britishers, but I can forgive that.

    Two missing episodes are replaced with animated alternatives. Nonetheless, The Invasion is absolutely cracking for half its runtime. Despite papering over cracks for the second, it just about maintains its action packed suspenseful storyline, mostly due to Kevin Stoney’s brilliantly effective Tobias Vaughn. A slightly grudging:

    4 from 5.  

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,596MI6 Agent
    edited November 22

    I've definitely seen most of these recent ones you're describing @chrisno1 I think from Tomb of the Cybermen on...

    first Second Doctor episode I ever saw was The Mind Robber. I must have seen the title on a list recommended as a good representative episode of the era. Definitely noted that final shot in the first episode where they're clinging to the remains of the TARDIS, and Zoe rotates towards the camera struggling to hold on wearing that shiny black catsuit. And she's not merely the first really objectification-worthy Companion, she's an interesting character too. I did not need to see her origin story to get she's meant to be nearly as smart as the Doctor yet still a teenage girl who's never had the chance to lead a teenage life.

    Enemy of the World I remember because of Troughton playing two roles. Now that I've seen a bunch of his appearances in The Saint, Danger Man, etc, I appreciate the villain character in this one was closer to the character parts he usually got to play: because he had dark features and could do the accents, he was often cast as swarthy sinister foreign types and was not usually playing for laughs as he did The Doctor.

    These two storylines that introduce The Brigadier are both quite substantial. Were they already thinking the show should be relocated to Earth when they introduced his character?


    EDIT: of course somebody on the Internet has made a gif of Zoe clinging to the TARDIS dashboard

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    Thanks, @caractacus potts . That fairly well sums up the best period of Pat Troughton, the "under siege" stories, as you termed them. The brief, recurring format debuted I suppose as early as The Tenth Planet, but as the Cyberman invasion has a much wider scope and involves landings across the globe, I saw it as a much more world-wide threat. The Power of the Daleks also has a similarly confined setting, but again it's only the bones on which I bigger story hangs. The Moonbase is the first properly conceived siege storyline. I find it surprising the show hasn't returned more often to the format as it clearly works exceptionally well.

    I was disappointed with The Enemy of the World. The novelisation read really well, an exciting thrill a page actioner. I'd forgotten completely about the deceived scientists and they spoilt that particular chapter.

    Nice gif.

    To get my thoughts on the lovely Zoe, read on...

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    For those that way inclined, The Krotons is the adventure where young Wendy Padbury’s coltish Zoe gets to sport a PVC mini-skirt and flash the gusset of her knickers. To say that’s the highlight of the story would be unfair, but it does suggest there isn’t a whole lot of entertainment on display in the serial.

    It’s worth considering for a moment the impact Miss Padbury made on Dr Who. Prior to her arrival in The Wheel in Space, female companions were for the most part adolescent-like. Barbara Wright and Polly are exceptions to this rule. All the others however tended to have quaint teenage qualities. It was thus a trifle uncomfortable, for instance, to watch Susan having to negotiate adult themed conversations, As the Doctor’s granddaughter, and having inherited his not-yet-specified alien nature, she always appeared more adult than the scriptwriters suggest, so they just about get away with it, despite a quite startling moment when she kissed the resistance fighter David in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Vicki also inherited a similar relationship with the Doctor and an equally ill-written love affair [in The Myth Makers.] Katrina, Dodo and Victoria were basically saddled with being youthful and naïve. Even their outfits tended towards the conservative; Victoria expressly dislikes the tight uniforms worn by the women in The Ice Warriors. The Doctor treated all these young ladies with a whiff of fatherly concern.

    Zoe Herriot meanwhile comes from an era of humankind where logic has transplanted instinct. She has all the knowledge and believes she’s even cleverer than the Doctor, who remarks: “Zoe is something of a genius. It can be rather irritating at times.” Although she’s only fifteen years old [Wendy Padbury was twenty-one] her character is written to behave far more mature than her age. What she lacks, of course, is the emotional experience. Travelling in the TARDIS has clearly awoken her latent sensual tendencies. She’s sported an array of startlingly tight, short, revealing costumes; during The Invasion, she even spent an episode glamour modelling! Padbury plays her with a coquettish spirit. Zoe knows she’s smart. She knows she’s sexy. She knows the boys know it. It’s a complete contrast to any characterisation that has come before and paves the way for some of the ‘new age’ companions of the seventies.

    It’s quite difficult, in fact, to picture her as a mid-teen, which must be a credit to Miss Padbury’s outstanding interpretation of an adolescent of the 21st century. [Of course, real adolescents of the 21st century haven’t been subjected to the brainwashing she was…] I like her smug attitude. She’s an excellent foil both for the Doctor – they try to out-do each other all the time, especially here – and for Jamie, who won’t stand for her clever-clogs nonsense but clearly feels a brotherly affection for her. The interplay between the three time travellers is probably the best and most consistent the show has demonstrated since its inception.

    As a story The Krotons isn’t very interesting. The Doctor and Zoe complete a complicated mathematical game and are rewarded with being sacrificed to the titular villains, crystalline beings who feed off mental energy. The Doctor destroys the Krotons and frees the enslaved Gonds. Job done. The monsters are uninspired. The story is slack. It does have moments of humour – the aforementioned testing sequence was hilarious – but it lacks tension and any sense of urgency. It passes along nicely. It isn’t even very well designed: the opening shot features a sliding hatchway which refuses to open. The Krotons is the kind of piece everyone believes all Dr Who shows were like in the early days.

    Philip Madoc, who made an impression as the black-marketeer Brockley in the cinema’s Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., gets the first of several villainous run outs on television’s Dr Who. Like almost everybody, he’s defeated by the script. Good playing and a flash of bum can’t save this one:

    2 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    The Seeds of Death re-treads the same tensions between humans and their reliance on technology which writer Brian Hayles highlighted with exceptional alacrity in The Ice Warriors. It’s also a re-examination of the ‘those in peril’ theme so popular during the previous season. In addition we see the reptilian Martians use a poisonous foam to kill off life on earth [see Fury from the Deep], utilise a moon base, a weather control station and a homing beacon to aid their invasion [see The Moonbase, The Wheel in Space, The Invasion – alien pilots really should learn to navigate.] All this familiarity leaves one with a distinct taste of déjà vu, which wouldn’t matter except the story and screenplay – much reworked by script editor Terrance **** – are verging on tedious. This is one of the most lumbering adventures I’ve watched so far – and that’s before you consider how slowly the Ice Warriors stumble about the corridors and passages.

    The Seeds of Death is the Dr Who story with the Travelmat Relay, a dematerialisation system which resembles the Transporter from Star Trek. [I have no idea if the producers / writers knew of Star Trek as it didn’t premier on U.K. television until six months after this adventure aired.] Earth has become over-reliant on the system and worldwide economic and social chaos breaks out when T-Mat ceases to function. Tasked to investigate is starchy Gia Kelly, played with assured authority by Louise Pajo. Meanwhile the Doctor persuades the T-Mat team to send him, Zoe and Jamie to moon base control in an ancient Ion Rocket. Museum curator Prof Eldred, a doddery Philip Ray, just happens to have one lying around. [“Nobody cares about exploring space anymore,” he moans with unintentional irony.] Once on the moon, the Doctor discovers the Ice Warriors are launching an invasion using oxygen grabbing seed pods. Well, there you go. You can guess the rest.

    The most interesting aspect of the serial is its production values. Paul Allen’s set designs are large and structurally interesting. There are no sleek, shiny lines. This moon base is a steely functional grey. It looks as if it was built with huge Mechano pieces. The impact of a Martian ray gun is represented by contracting and blurring the film, an excellent effect. The model work is remarkably good. Director Michael Ferguson uses a variety of interesting camera angles to add interest. There are a series of panoramic shots showing the size of the arena, the landscape and all the players within it; views from on high or from low down provide a sense of scale and menace; early on we see scenes from an Ice Warrior’s point of view; a simple explanation of the T-Mat system is given by a museum teleplay; later a dramatic sequence shifts seamlessly to-and-from a video monitor to the actual room where the action unfolds; frequently cameraman Peter Hall shoots through windows, partitions, doors and ventilation grilles. These innovative visuals can’t hide the lacklustre mood. It’s a slow crawl from the start and the finish feels a long way away.

    Among all the numerous deaths, the fate of Fewsham is the most interesting. He’s the prototype for a default perpetrator we’ll see occur over and over in Dr Who: the nervy, edgy, unsympathetic innocent unwittingly or unwillingly employed by the enemy. His death is supposed to redeem his worst qualities. Terry Scully is irritatingly unbearable.

    A point of interest is that Zoe, a more than capable companion, demonstrates she can launch and pilot an Ion Rocket. This renders both the Doctor and Jamie redundant on the journey to the moon base. She’s like an early version of Holly Goodhead from Moonraker, bossing the boys about in her yellow jump suit. Sadly the roles written for her co-travellers revert back to some of the tomfoolery of Season 4.

    Sadly, The Seeds of Death never takes off:

    2 from 5.          

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    Robert Holmes wrote many great screenplays for Dr Who. This is not one of them. I understand the story was commissioned in a rush to fill a scheduling gap, but I’m not using that as an excuse. The Space Pirates is plain bad.

    The Doctor loses the TARDIS and gets mixed up with prospectors, Space Corps and intergalactic pirates all hunting for the solar system’s most precious metal: argonite. The show’s fairly well designed, but is poorly scripted and has the worst collection of performances I think I’ve ever seen or heard on Dr Who. Only Lisa Daniely as a steely mining magnate comes out of the thing with pride intact. The three leads gel excellently as always, but they hardly feature [five minutes only in episode 1, ten in episode 2.] Wendy Padbury shares a great scene of one-upmanship with Patrick Troughton; Fraser Hines’ Jamie seems to get dumber by each adventure.

    The Space Pirates is the last incomplete Dr Who serial, so it’s time to say goodbye to the cut and paste specialists Loose Cannon Productions, who made whatever was left of the filmed footage into a passable interpretation of a sci-fi saga. Only one episode of this dreadful space western exists and it does the adventure no favours.

    Watching The Space Pirates felt like being keel-hauled:

    1 from 5.  

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    The War Games is an important adventure for Dr Who for two reasons: it brings to a close the Patrick Troughton years and the audience finally learns the identity of the Doctor’s alien race, the Time Lords. It’s worth reflecting on the Time Lords for a moment.

    As the Second Doctor’s era is the one most closely associated with battling monsters, it’s interesting to discover his final enemies are the monstrous inhabitants of his home planet. They may look like humans, but these watchers of the galaxies are a hard, heartless bunch. They have tremendous mental powers which allow them to inflict justice through pure thought. They have mastered the art of time travel, but prefer not to utilise it. They have developed a law of non-interference and spend their lives, which the Doctor claims are eternal, watching the universe. Under this tenet, they allow all life forms, good and evil, to prosper and care nothing for the consequences. It was from this painful, soulless world which the Doctor fled, to discover all the known and unknown worlds of the universe, to help the afflicted, to use his knowledge.

    The final episode of this epic ten-part adventure takes place on the Time Lords’ unnamed home world, a confusion of maze-like corridors, brutalist architecture, strange misty pools and large uninterrupted spaces. The three lords themselves are austere, emotionless creatures, human in form only. The Doctor has summoned them to help him right a terrible wrong on thousands of earthlings. The summoning is a neat mental and physical trick involving a small, white deconstructed cube which stores memories. Its use and the Doctor’s telepathic and teleportation abilities nicely recall his granddaughter Susan, who was similarly blessed.

    [Point of order: what happened to the orange skies Susan regaled us with in The Sensorites? Gallifrey – at this point unnamed – seemed to go through several changes as Dr Who progressed, as do the Time Lords, and not always for the better.]

    The Time Lords use this summons as an opportunity to recapture the Doctor’s TARDIS and put him on trial for consistent interference in the natural path of the universe. Now, this does call into question the concept of time travel and exactly how anyone – including benign Time Lords – could journey anywhere in any space and time and not have an effect on the surrounding environment. Plonking a TARDIS and its crew in the stone age, the futurist colonies of the Sense-Sphere or Vulcan, the age of the gunfighter, the Land of Fiction or the tombs of Telos, will have an effect on something, somehow, anyhow, especially when a meddler such as the Doctor or the Monk enjoys getting into trouble. The Doctor even admits it! Jamie reckons he’s now got into trouble with his own race. And he’s right.

    The trial does not go well. However the Doctor’s vehement defence at least evokes some sympathy: “All these evils I have fought, while you have done nothing but observe! True, I am guilty of interference. Just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!” His role as a defender of the weak is partially accepted and his life is spared, on condition he undertakes an exile to earth in the twentieth century. Additionally he is forced to change appearance. [Still not called a ‘regeneration’.]

    Patrick Troughton is excellent in these scenes. If he is a trifle scatty, it’s probably down to nerves. The Doctor seems genuinely scared of the Time Lords and the justice they may administer. He’s frantic in his attempts to escape, becoming more and more crazed as each effort is thwarted. When he finally surrenders, it’s with a submissive shrug of those hobo-like shoulders. He looks like a little boy whose been caught by the ticket inspector. When he defends himself, he challenges the lords’ perception of the universe, and does so with clear, assertive yet slightly desperate sentences. You sense his unease, his knowledge he’s fighting on a knife edge. Troughton is good too when saying his farewells to Jamie and Zoe, the companions which he has probably gelled best with over the last twenty-one adventures. There’s affection, but also reserve. The Doctor knows this moment would always come and goodbyes are always hard for him, even in his second more personable character. The odds are stacking against the Doctor and his resigned half-smile when told they will “only remember their first adventure with you” is wholly appropriate. When we see a puzzled Zoe back on Wheel 3 staring blankly into the distance and shaking her head as if attempting to recall something, our heart goes out to her and to the Doctor. All those days and weeks and months – you really can’t tell with time travel – and she’s fated to remember nothing except a few days and never develop any emotional barometer except the officious practical topes of an International Space Command logistician. Jamie, perhaps being less of an intellect, gets straight back into the action and clobbers an English Redcoat. Full marks to Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines for these touching departures.

    It’s worth noting too that Philip Madoc’s slimy prime villain, the War Lord, is also on trial for interfering in the lives of others. The resultant justice suggests the Time Lords are very capable of interfering with history or the future when they deem it necessary. The War Lord is tortured and then ‘un-existed’ – not just killed, his whole life and its essence is eradicated from time and space, which if you think about it is even worse than simply losing your life – he now has no existence at all. His planet is banished behind a Time Lord forcefield.

    The War Lord’s home world and people are not named, which is a little disappointing from the writers given how hard they’ve worked to maintain the quality of such a long serial. Terrance **** and Malcolm Hulke achieve a high level of drama despite some obvious mid-story padding. The early episodes, when the travellers believe they’ve stumbled into the Great War c.1917, and face a trumped up court martial are tremendously tense. At this point the Doctor knows nothing of the situation he’s embroiled in, while the audience does. We’ve been privy to the inside of General Smythe’s quarters where his alien communication and travel devices are revealed. Noel Coleman’s vindictive General is a member of the War Lord’s race and he has control over a sector of the War Game. Here, captured armies from different ages of man’s history are fighting endless battles until the fittest have survived. They will form the nucleus of a rampaging War Lord army which will conquer the universe. Several wars are represented, but it is the First World War sequences which are most visceral and haunting.

    [An unfortunate side-effect of watching these episodes in 2021 is that of being in constant reminder of Blackadder Goes Forth, an exceptional television sit-com set in the trenches. Several of the situations the Doctor finds himself in or the characters he meets are similar to those featured on the comedy show. General Smythe becomes Lord Melchett; Lieutenant Carstairs becomes Lt George; there’s a court martial; a pretty nurse; and so on. The very British stiff upper lip exemplified by everyone only adds to the retrospective sense of unwritten comedy and is particularly noticeable later on when caricatures from Mexico, Russia and the American Civil War appear. I’m sure it is all coincidence, but it is a little distracting for I started seeing the comic side of the action rather than the dramatic.]

    The story moves fast and furious. Too furious at times. There are plenty of fist fights, chases and gun battles. The War Games is probably the most action-orientated serial the show has ever produced. At times though, it does feel as if the writers inserted these moments of violence simply to chivvy the story along in case the audience was getting bored. This dullness is particularly apparent when the War Chief [Edward Brayshaw] and the Security Chief [James Bree] start slinging verbal mud at each other. The latter’s straight-backed delivery and hackneyed elongated annunciation drags some of these scenes out for twice as long as necessary. And there are an awful lot of them.

    Attention is grabbed by Jane Sherwin’s Lady Jennifer Buckingham, a perky ambulance driver, as well as the aforementioned Edward Brayshaw as the War Chief. The latter is splendid in his wily confrontations with the Security Chief, the War Lord and the Doctor. A Time Lord himself he’s used his own TARDIS to create what he calls Sidrat machines, a basic multi-dimensional time travel craft. The two men first meet when the Doctor and Zoe, having infiltrated the control centre, bunk into a scientific demonstration. The two rivals instantly recognise one another. This may have left many in an audience of 1969 scratching their heads. The two Time Lords discuss their home world in Episode 8 and we learn more about the Doctor’s past in a single conversation than we’ve gleaned in the previous six years: the Doctor effectively exiled himself by deserting the planet and ethos of the Time Lords and is basically ‘on the run’ [this appears to be the fate of all who do: the Monk and the War Chief, and later on the Master, all seem to share a similar history].

    The production is universally good. You’d expect this from the BBC with its proud record of excellent costume drama. Roger Cheveley does a masterful job interpreting the historical war zones. What impresses too is the obliquely pop-art look of the War Lord’s control centre. The designs are grounded in an eerie contemporary reality, yet other worldly enough to appear mysterious and threatening. Even the transcendental interior of a Sidrat has passages, nooks and crannies and devices all of its own, just like a TARDIS. Details like the alienness of the control desk with its weird amoeba shaped circuits, raise the bar very high. Nicholas Bullen’s costumes complement the sets. He’s not attempting to do too much, which allows the actors and the dialogue to tell the story, not the clothes. For once an audience isn’t distracted by the nonsense the players have to wear. The editing is sharp and is most evident in those early war sequences. There’s a few neat camera tricks, the best of which probably come right at the beginning when a puddle of water vibrates to the sound of the materialising TARDIS and the police box’s reflection is seen in the dirty, muddy pool. The special FX, while not exactly ground breaking, certainly don’t embarrass the show. As always, David Maloney is a safe pair of hands on the director’s tiller.

    I’m very torn. The War Games inevitable downfall is in its repetition – the fights, captures, escapes, brain washings, etc. You do feel the story is about four episodes too long. This may not have been so noticeable if I’d watched each chapter one week apart. Viewing in three chunks, it became a trifle tedious midway and struggled to maintain its drive. However, the adventure picks itself up again and reaches a splendid conclusion which leaves the audience [a 1960s one obviously] pondering what is going to become of Doctor Who, the person and quite possibly the show, as the finale looks like an handy excuse to end the time traveller’s journeys.

    I was generous when assessing The Invasion, so I don’t see any reason not to be generous here:

    5 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,505MI6 Agent
    edited November 26

    The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

    Season Six


    Patrick Troughton’s final season is very similar to his first in that it has several high points among many lows. There’s no middle ground in Season 6. Either an adventure is very good, touching on the superb, or it is hopelessly incompetent.

    After the consistency displayed in Season 5 this comes at a big disappointment. It is odder still that the qualities which made the stories in Season 5 so good across the board – writing, design and acting – are the very ones which let the failing stories down. Consider the look of The Dominators or The Krotons and compare them to The Ice Warriors or The Wheel in Space. Consider the acting in The Space Pirates against Fury from the Deep. The stilted dialogue of The Seeds of Death compared to Tomb of the Cybermen. Most disappointing is the introduction of two unconvincing Dalek-like robot monsters. These cheap and cheerful knock-offs do the series no favours. As the season progressed there also seemed to be a reliance on action for action’s sake – most notable in the otherwise excellent The War Games – which gives the impression of padding a story. Generally Dr Who gets its casting and acting on point, but there are some disastrous choices here, either that or the respective directors had no grasp of the subject. The Space Pirates has quite possibly the shoddiest all round examples of thespianism I’ve witnessed so far on the show. Hardly an actor escapes with merit. Assessment of that serial is hampered by only having one chapter available to view, but to be honest, one was enough to convince me it was a dreadful exercise. That’s damning praise and I had the same sinking feelings half way through the other poorly rated serials.

    Thank goodness then for The Invasion and The War Games which provide us with solid, exciting stories full of twists and turns and intrigue. The Mind Robber is a class apart, this weird LSD trip into a world of fiction still holds its own fifty years after first airing, chiefly because it is so innovative, invigorating and bloody confusing. I wouldn’t normally say that about a film or a TV show, but within the confines of the twenty-minute episode structure, the unconventionality works superbly, constantly drawing us in with mystery and throwing another puzzle at the heroes rather than resolving their plight.

    The main battle for the Second Doctor’s whole era is the lack of actual visual material. Of twenty one serials, only seven are complete, which is a poor return. This situation resolves itself from 1970, but it does mean there are only tantalising glimpses of Troughton’s work. He hasn’t disgraced Dr Who and I feel a little sorry for him as he inhabits the role at a time of great televisual change. Not only were transmissions coming in colour, but effects and production values were becoming much better. The BBC didn’t have the budget to compete on the level of some of the US shows of the period, so it tries to innovate through storytelling. Sometimes [The Mind Robber, The War Games] this works, often it doesn’t, and when the production qualities are low, poor writing will expose the soft skeleton.

    A final word must go to the three central performers. The role of the companion has always been two fold in these early adventures: a man for the rough stuff and a woman to be in peril, both are the audience’s barometer of morality as well as our inquisitor, asking the questions and receiving the explanations. Patrick Troughton’s bumbling, yet sturdy, inquisitive Doctor, Frazer Hines’ loyal, boisterous Jamie McCrimmon and Wendy Padbury’s bossy, smart, puckish Zoe spark off each other with much satisfaction. They work well as a team, to expound on what happens, help each other in a crisis, console in a moment of fear. The trio are at their most successful when poking fun at one another, and in the main this doesn’t detract from the seriousness of their roles. Zoe doesn’t scream as much as other female companions. Instead she brings an intelligence to the group not seen since Susan and Barbara. Zoe isn’t as perceptive because she’s emotionally stunted, but she is far more able to explain science to Jamie [thus to the audience]. She even explains things to the Doctor! If Jamie suffers from being underwritten, this is probably to do with Frazer Hines’ longevity. The writers simply don’t give him enough to do or say. Occasionally he appears almost foolish, which hasn’t happened previously to a companion. Nonetheless, Hines’ plays him with enthusiasm and verve. Patrick Troughton’s Doctor won’t ever be my favourite, but he copes admirably here with a series of scripts that try to revert him back to the jocular, inept-seeming version we saw in Season 4. Given something to get his teeth into, he proves – as he did in Season 5 – that his Doctor is a great lead character, fascinated by his surrounds, captivated by everyone and everything. He’s a more personable man than William Hartnell’s crotchety First Doctor, which probably explains his enduring popularity. As Patrick Troughton departs into a black screen via a swirl of fading faces, the audience of 1969 must have wondered with some reserve who and what was going return.

    The galactic hobo, Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor

    Fraser Hines as Jamie McCrimmon, who gets a piccy purely on the basis of his longevity:

    Wendy Padbury as Zoe Herriot, my favourite female companion so far:

    I need a rest from all this posting, but will return soon with the Third Doctor's era.


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