The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton
THE ENEMY OF THE WORLD
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.
THE WEB OF FEAR
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.
4 from 5.
FURY FROM THE DEEP
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.
THE WHEEL IN SPACE
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.
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.
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:
THE MIND ROBBER
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.
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.
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
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.
To get my thoughts on the lovely Zoe, read on...
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:
THE SEEDS OF DEATH
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.
THE SPACE PIRATES
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.
THE WAR GAMES
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:
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.
Commencing tomorrow, a whirlwind trip through the Third Doctor's era - one of my favourites - twenty-four chapters and a few extras to boot, watch this space every day for an update - although a few sherries at Christmastime might delay me.
To tease you all:
The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee
SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE
A flotilla of meteorites lands in Essex, England. Suspicions are aroused when it comes to light that the meteors landed in formation. Enter UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who is on the case and needs a new science officer. Enter Liz Shaw, sardonic, attractive, mini-skirt wearing Cambridge physics genius. Enter the Doctor, whose TARDIS has materialised near the meteor fall. Enter Tom Seeley, a poacher who confiscates a meteorite intending to sell it for profit. Enter Channing, a strange expressionless man intent on recovering all fifty meteorites, intent on discovering who the Doctor is, intent on world domination. Enter Hibbert, owner of a plastics factory who has come under the influence of Channing’s hypnotic mental power. Enter the Nestene, a shapeless conscious alien which roams the galaxies invading, conquering and exploiting planet after planet. Enter the Autons, its plastic based robotic killer servants. Enter the Facsimiles, Autons which resemble real people and can think for themselves. Enter an adventure full of tension, terror and excitement. Enter the new world of the Third Doctor.
Spearhead from Space is a classic Dr Who serial. I say it unashamedly. After watching the Doctor’s black and white escapades and enduring the recent constant obsession with dumbing down the show, offering humour instead of tension as entertainment, suffering poor screenplays and slap-dash production values, it’s a relief to find the Doctor back on solid ground with a rip-roaring alien invasion story, one which admittedly borrows freely from other sources as well as the show itself, but which papers over these cracks so brilliantly you hardly notice.
After a six month hiatus Dr Who returned to television screens in January 1970. This was the longest break the show had endured since its inception. Fans at the time were worried it may not ever return, especially after the bleak ending to The War Games. Three things were immediately obvious before the new story even got underway: we have colour film, we have a new credit sequence and we have a brand new Doctor.
On a personal note, I never liked either black and white credit sequence. They always looked watery. The fact the producers tried to spice it up with fresh episode-title cards suggests they knew it too. The brand new colour design is excellent. I like the vanishing vibrating primary coloured outlines, demonstrating the passages through time and space, rather than simply entering a void, which the howler screen suggested before. The stylised lettering of the D and H in ‘Doctor Who’ gives it a funky edge. We also have our first look at the new Doctor as Jon Pertwee’s face stares out at us in clear defined colour. He looks quite chirpy.
There’s a brand new creative team responsible for this technicolour reboot. Barry Letts took over production duties and Terrance **** was script editor. Officially this serial was produced by Derrick Sherwin, but it was essentially part of a long hand-over to Letts and ****, which started the previous season. These two giants of Dr Who production would steer the show through the next five seasons. Their dedication and inventiveness is on display from this earliest of Jon Pertwee episodes.
Taking up where the previous season ended, the Doctor has been exiled to Earth. He’s in pain following his enforced change [note: still not a regeneration] and collapses near the TARDIS. He’s found by UNIT soldiers searching for those pesky meteorites and taken to a local hospital. This is a stroke of fortune for the Brigadier [ably fleshed out once more by Nicholas Courtney] whose having rather a spiky time dealing with his new science officer.
Liz Shaw’s UNIT interview is a case of verbal one-up-man-ship and you sense she’s not the kind of girl to be making cups of tea for anyone. She’s intelligent, capable and a good foil for both the Brigadier and, later, the Doctor. Caroline John is excellent as the new companion, melding the youthful contemporary attraction of Polly with the science buff Zoe. She questions the Doctor’s motives in much the same way as Barbara. She’s probably the most rounded and significant companion the Doctor ever had, being in a position of authority, forming her own opinions and having the skill set to follow them through. She spends much of this serial investigating the physiognomy of the meteorite without the Doctor’s assistance. This kind of thing wouldn’t happen again until we encounter Romana [more of that in a few season’s reviews]. Some commentators may find this dull, but I enjoy the dynamic which it brought to the show, with two competing minds establishing who is in control. It also doesn’t take the audience for idiots. We no longer need absolutely everything explained to us, and Liz being an expert allows leeway for certain scientific fluff not to be clarified. When she discusses the composition of the meteorite, we don’t have to suffer Jamie moaning he doesn’t understand anything; we are given the explanation, there, get on with the show.
These introductory scenes are played with some good natured humour, but also without, and that’s significant too. Patrick Troughton’s first and last seasons both suffered from an over emphasis on the playful side of the Second Doctor. Not so here. It is true Jon Pertwee forged his career in light comedy and there are a few moments early on which hark back to his established acting persona: he inspects his new self humorously in a mirror, he wiggles his eyebrows offering an alien greeting, he attempts to flee in the TARDIS only to emerge from the police box surrounded by steam and smoke and he escapes from hospital by dressing in other people’s clothes. This latter scene shows the Doctor still acting a little scatty following his regeneration. He enters a cloakroom, spies a bathtub and grins. We next see the consultant, Dr Henderson, and a visiting expert entering the same room discussing the Doctor’s case while their patient merrily scrubs away in the shower. This might be seen as goofy, yet the scene allows the Doctor to escape in a shrewd manner, without resorting to violence, or scientific and verbal ridiculousness. The scene is significant because Pertwee is allowed to be jovial without losing his air of authority and implacability. Moments like this are familiar from movies and television [for instance, Gregory Peck hid in a shower in Arabesque] and reassure the audience that we too are on familiar ground. There wouldn’t be another scene like it until The Green Death in Season 10, for this new Doctor becomes intensely serious all-round.
In fact, this whole serial is a much more serious adventure than many that had previously graced the show. It impresses as very modern, even now. It feels as if the world we know [the 1970 one] might be genuinely under threat from aliens at any point. There’s a real sense of shock and horror when the Autons break out of shop windows and terrorise the population of Britain’s High Streets. When invaders landed on contemporary Earth before, these tended to be localised and restricted events [with the exception of The Tenth Planet, which is supposedly set in the future of 1986]. The Yeti were roaming the London Underground. The Cybermen barely made it out of the sewers. The War Machines, stopped at source. The Autons, under orders from the universe roaming Nestene conscious, are everywhere, in homes, streets, the army, even government.
Earlier on, when news of the meteor shower breaks and a porter informs the local newspaper about the Doctor’s mysterious ailments, the press surround the hospital, sensing a scoop. This makes the story alive and real, as if it is involving the whole country [and by extension essentially us, the audience] and not confined to the Doctor and his TARDIS and friends. It is here we first meet the peculiarly behaved Channing [played with stone faced brilliance by Hugh Burden] and begin to suspect foul play is happening. When Ransome, a disgruntled ex-employee, visits Hibbert’s plastics factory, he’s immediately suspicious too. This is preceded by a fantastic edit where Channing’s face is blended over that of a production line mannequin, adding to his air of expressionless unreality. When Ransome is first menaced by an Auton, we are so engrossed in what he’s doing, we almost don’t notice the robot moving until it jerks one step off the podium. Derek Martinus directs the whole serial with a keen eye for detail and suspense. He utilises Robert Holmes’ excellent screenplay to full effect, not letting a single sentence stand on its own. Almost every line is character building or narrative forming. Almost every scene adds atmosphere.
The writer / director / producer really came up trumps with the marauding robot Autons. Not only do they smash windows and kill with impunity, but they can move like real people, including running and fighting. This makes them immediately more mobile than almost any ‘robot’ or ‘android’ looking enemy the Doctor’s faced before. You can’t image a Yeti, Cyberman or Ice Warrior moving as fast as an Auton. The more lifelike Facsimiles, such as Channing, are equally chilling. It is a little disappointing that come the climax the creepy octopus shaped Nestene ends up waving rubber tentacles out of a coffin-shaped incubator, but I can forgive that given the power of Hugh Burden’s monstrously cold performance as the chief Facsimile.
If the monsters suddenly seem to have come of age, it’s fair to say the audience isn’t being treated as children either. When an UNIT jeep crashes, the dead soldier’s blood is splattered on the windshield. When Seeley’s wife Meg discovers the meteorite, she [and us] are alerted to danger in time-honoured fashion when her dog stops barking. The suspense is undeniably heightened. The plastic faces of the Facsimiles are eerily realistic, not quite human, not quite robot, slightly slimy and sweaty. We understand why General Scobie recoils in fear when confronted by his own self. [This last a dead copy of Cherval’s confrontation with his double in Thunderball]. Hibbert is a jittery, ill-at-ease businessman hypnotised into a situation he can’t escape from; we feel for John Woodnutt’s character as he struggles to assert himself.
Spearhead from Space was accidentally blessed by a BBC strike which prevented the use of the usual studio facilities. Instead almost the whole adventure was filmed on location and all on 16mm film. This gives the serial a very cinematic look, one which sadly wouldn’t be repeated for many years. It is also blessed with superb writing, directing and creative work. The editing is top notch. The costuming, though obviously contemporary, is spot on and doesn’t embarrass anyone. The effects are well up to par, tentacles accepted.
Perhaps best of all is the fresh revitalised standard of acting on display. Jon Pertwee slips into the role of the Doctor as if he was made for it. There’s no easing his way in. He puts on the cloak and the frilly shirt, drives a superb vintage car, solves an alien invasion, and you know instantly this is the Doctor, the genius, the Saturday teatime hero. There’s a twinkle in his eye, but he’s a tough, straight talking cookie and he’s prepared to show it from the get-go. So too Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney and Johnny Breslin [as UNIT’s Captain Munroe] who all add depth to their characters creating a fine, ensemble performance. In fact, the cast deserves universal praise and raises the starting bar tremendously high for the Seventh Season.
It’s difficult to know where the Third Doctor’s adventures can go from such an elevated starting point:
The Silurians is probably one of the top five Dr Who adventures of all time [Classic Series only]. It’s so good, I wouldn’t simply call it a Classic Adventure but a Great Adventure. The serial transcends being simply a great science fiction children’s story and becomes an example of Great Television Drama.
Let’s put aside the slightly dodgy rubber suits the monster actors have to wear – and even here, the costuming department has been at pains to make each monster an individual – they are different heights and colours and are given unique facial features. Let’s instead take this epic seven episode adventure on its merits as an exciting, thought provoking and brilliantly realised thriller encompassing the hallmarks of traditional sci-fi and combining them with a modern slant on genocide, racial harmony, political infighting, civil or military cooperation or non-cooperation, and ultimately, disaster. That this can all be woven into an adventure essentially aimed at a youthful Saturday tea-time audience, proves that Dr Who can be entertaining and still educational, albeit perhaps this wasn’t the kind of education the BBC had in mind when it commissioned the show in 1963.
Writer Malcolm Hulke doesn’t mess about. Within minutes of the credits fading, we are in the caves at Wenley Moor, where we find two potholers being petrified half to death by a prehistoric monster. One of them, Spenser, takes to drawing cave paintings on the wall of his hospital ward. Initially, UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart don’t concern themselves with his condition. They are more interested in a series of unexplained power failures at the Wenley Atomic Research Centre. The Doctor is called in to investigate and can find nothing wrong with the Cyclotron. The proton accelerator has been championed by the Centre’s director, Dr Lawrence, as a new method of gaining cheap electricity as it transmits power direct from the fuel source without need of a conductor. The Doctor, quite rightly, suspects some other party has also discovered this and is syphoning away the power.
The set up for this slow-burn detective yarn is perfect. It’s almost like a James Bond briefing, with the Doctor, Liz Shaw, the Brigadier, Dr Lawrence, the Chief Scientist Dr Quinn and the Security Chief Baker all discussing the possible repercussions of the reactor’s failure [from a lack of public confidence to a nuclear explosion] as well as how to prevent it, how to investigate it and who will conduct which examination. Within a few short minutes Hulke has introduced the prime suspects, their roles, their attitudes and motives; he’s told us what they will be doing and why; most importantly he’s shown us the Doctors’ disdainful comprehension of them all.
When the Brigadier decides on an armed investigation of the caves, Jon Pertwee’s cynical Time Lord declares: “Typical of the military mind. Present them with a new problem and they start shooting at it.” Later on, he mocks Lethbridge-Stewart’s martial attempts at discovering who or what is causing the power outages: “All set to play soldiers?” The expression on Nicholas Courtney’s face betrays the Brigadier’s ill-regard for the Doctor’s less pragmatic approach to the unknown. He gets his own back and, exasperated by his Science Officer’s insistence on looking for evidence before action refers to him as “Doctor Watson” – not the genius, Sherlock Holmes. For the first time there is rising antagonism between the UNIT partnership. What was once jovial nit-picking has become a full-blown argument. The Brigadier is an impatient man, always seeking a fast answer and a quick, solid resolution. He’s prepared to make mistakes. He’s prepared to lose men in a battle if it forwards his agenda. He isn’t though without undue concern and caution. When the going gets really tough, he both encourages the Doctor and uses his military training to enforce a concerted national response to a crisis. Meanwhile the Doctor, and sometimes by extension Liz Shaw, try to create a more homogenous solution, one based on conciliation and compromise. The clash of these respective approaches to the Wenley Moor situation allows the viewer to partake meaningfully in their thought processes and differing opinions. We are not simply given one side of the story.
In fact, we are given four or five different viewpoints. Dr Quinn, [Fulton MacKay, brilliantly playing the unsympathetic innocent – the stock character I first identified in The Seeds of Death] has met the Silurians and believes he can manipulate them into giving him the secrets of their science-based civilisation; he wants to exploit them. Dr Lawrence [Peter Miles] is a sturdy, upright, career focussed Centre Director, who believes everyone else is going crazy, so much so he ignores all evidence to the contrary and is eventually killed by his own foolishness, his behaviour verging on the insane in the process. Thomasina Heiner’s Miss Dawson wants revenge on the Silurian’s for killing Dr Quinn. Baker only sees an alien invader and also wishes to exterminate them; Norman Jones makes the Security Chief a vehement proto-fascist. There’s even a government minister, Under-Secretary Masters, played with authority and balance by Geoffrey Palmer [he of Tomorrow Never Dies and numerous television sitcoms] who wants the situation isolated so that, while it may hurt everyone else’s career, it doesn’t affect his. His own selfish attitude in the face of a deadly plague results in a virulent spreading pandemic. There’s a magnificent scene in Episode 4 where Masters and Lawrence discuss the fate of the Research Centre, UNIT’s troubles, public opinion, politics and their own careers. Lawrence begins to lose control and raise his ire. Eventually his target is the Doctor: “He’s insolent, intolerant and shows no respect.”
True. The Doctor is also stately, reasonable and forthright. Whether attempting to broker peace, discover cures for unknown viruses or prevent nuclear meltdown, Jon Pertwee’s version of the Doctor never loses his focus or his energy. He’s still curious about the alien and unknown, but in a studious knowledgeable fashion. He really does want evidence before he makes decisions, because that will reinforce his conclusion. He also shows tiredness and irritability when the tension rises, yet, at a denouement, always pulls through with dexterity and aplomb. His skill is never, ever in doubt. This is a mindset which neither William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton possessed.
It’s also noticeable that, having discovered the Silurians are stealing power from the reactor so they can reanimate a lost race and repopulate the earth, he doesn’t immediately assume this is a bad thing. He may be all action, zipping around in his new vintage car, Bessie [number plate WHO 1], potholing, chasing and fighting, but he’s also a conscientious mediator. Unable to convince the humans of his intentions, he tries to persuade the Silurians and manages to ally himself with their leader. Sadly for the Doctor, the Old Silurian has battles of his own to conduct and the in-fighting amongst the reptilian cave-monsters costs the leader his life. It is important that Hulke, as a writer, draws the comparison between the warring sides, that they are both not only fighting each other but themselves, and this ultimately leads to the ramifications of the final chapters.
The Silurians are not the very best of monsters, but they are suitably humanoid and reptilian to convince us, even if we can see the joins in their suits. Director Timothy Coombe draws heavily on cinematic history by first showing us only a Silurian point of view accompanied by heavy, painful breathing. This recalls initial sightings of aliens in It Came From Outer Space. We spend a whole thrill-a-moment episode chasing an injured Silurian. We view it fleetingly, tramping through moorland undergrowth, like the famous footage of ‘Bigfoot.’ Coombe and uncredited cameraman Frederick Hamilton shoot this against the setting sun, creating a hazy image of heat and light, one which the Silurian, a reptile, recognises as home: our first image of his viewpoint is of that same rippling gorgeous sunset. This is stylish and recognisably cinematic. The hunt sequence is superb. UNIT deploys helicopters, jeeps and dozens of soldiers in its search. Coombe uses aerial shots to extenuate the vast open moorland. The soldiers look pitifully tiny; how can they find the monster in such a huge space? Carey Blyton’s music score is fittingly strident at this point. Meanwhile the Doctor uses Bessie to inadvertently follow Dr Quinn. Like all best rural chase and hunt stories [such as Whistle Down the Wind] the answer is closer to home and the Silurian is hiding in a farmer’s barn virtually under UNIT’s noses and on top of the Atomic Centre. And we still haven’t seen it!
The reveal doesn’t happen until the end of episode 3 in a stunning, simple introduction, which has the Doctor activating an electronic calling device, similar to a dog whistle, that the Silurians recognise as belonging to a point or person of safety. Dr Quinn was not that point. Mercifully – and cleverly – why give away all the secrets at once? – we are saved the death of Dr Quinn, but his imprisonment of the renegade monster only fuels the resentment of the Young Silurian.
So far, the first four episodes have been a chase and run detective story, clues and red herrings are dropped and solved. One of them, about people going crazy at the Atomic Centre doesn’t hold water. It’s an interesting aside, but feels tagged on. Strangely Spenser’s hospital room is the same one Baker is later kept in. When Baker escapes, the Brigadier doesn’t even panic: “He’ll be in those caves hunting for saboteurs,” he says, but he never wondered what happened to Spenser…
The Doctor and Liz have been piecing clues together and we finally get to unravel the Old Silurian’s plan, the Doctor’s peace proposal, the Young Silurian’s counter thrust and the final desperate solution from both the reptile aliens and the human invaders. For it is of course, the humans who have staked a claim to the Silurian world. When the moon first approached earth, the Silurians believed it would devastate the planet and put their race into hibernation, only for the system to malfunction. In the intervening millennia, human kind has come to conquer the planet. Had the Cyclotron not been activated, sending electricity into the surrounding rocks, the Silurians would never have been revived. Now they want their planet back. To do so, they introduce a deadly virus, one they used regularly on early primates to cull the ape population.
This is where The Silurians as a serial achieves its finest sequences. Monster chasing and fighting is all very well. So is the science and techy stuff. And it all looks fabulous. Barry Newbury’s designs are excellent. The rock hewn Atomic Centre – four sets only – is well realised [Dr No, anyone?] so too the caves and the Silurian base. The alien control panel was masterly, a simple array of lights, no signs, no levers or indicators. The Silurians do not need them as they use a powerful third ‘eye’ to control everything they cannot physically handle, including mental torture, heat rays and locking doors. The presentation of the action and the machinations of the characters and the plot are up to this point universally, astoundingly well-staged. And yet, Hulke as writer and Coombe as director take the story up still another notch by introducing the killer plague.
These montage scenes are some of the most frightening ever filmed for Dr Who. Teresa Wright’s make-up team go all out to show the various deadly stages of contamination. Bleary eyes, sweating; reddening skin; blotches; sudden open sores; huge cracked and bleeding blisters. Interspersed are shots of the Doctor and Liz analysing blood samples, soldiers manning phones, the Brigadier, resolute but losing faith and patience. Among these scenes, the moment where a diseased and brain-shattered Dr Lawrence attacks Lethbridge-Stewart, is simply remarkable. Peter Miles is magnificent as the sly, vindictive Director, and his final scene of all-out malicious accusations, while the Nicholas Courtney plays it straight and calm, while Liz Shaw reels terrified in the background, is extremely violent in its language, content and playing. Meanwhile all across Britain people are staggering to their deaths: train stations, streets, taxis, hospitals, everywhere sirens wail. The crew filmed at Marylebone station and, once again, a sweeping aerial landscape describes the chaos and panic. Containment is the Doctor’s solution. He needs time to perfect an antidote. Here, the Brigadier’s military training comes to the fore. When he brandishes his pistol and ushers medical staff back inside a hospital, you sense he really means it; this is life and death.
The plague sequences have particular resonance in 2021 because we have been suffering at the whim of Covid-19 and fully appreciate the nature of a pandemic. I can only say thank goodness CV19 doesn’t spread as virulently as the Silurian bacteria. Plagues are not new to sci-fi [the original Quatermass serial heavily featured one, I think] or to Dr Who [note: The Ark] but this is a new and vivid portrayal of infection which now feels even more ahead of its time than it may have done in 1970. Liz Shaw delivers possibly the most potent line of these scenes upon learning the disease has already been detected in Paris: “If we can’t contain it in Britain, what chance has the rest of the world got?” Perhaps all politicians should be told to watch The Silurians. Liz proves her worth as a scientist, not some airhead dollybird companion; it is she who suggests the Doctor tests “A37 in the presence of Z19” which proves the winning antidote and only she can identify and transcribe the Doctor’s formula. He’s been inconveniently kidnapped by the Silurians.
This last phase of the show is the only weak note. We don’t believe the Silurians can destroy the Van Allen Belt with their pitiful little machine. [I’m not even sure the writers mean the Van Allen Belt; Liz gets this wrong, she means the Earth’s magnetic field.] Nonetheless, the three leads give it their all and it hardly matters. “Fusing the control of the neutron flow,” is the first of many Jon Pertwee phrases which are scientific gobbledygook. It’s only a plot device anyway, a ruse by the Doctor [by which I mean, the writer] to send the Silurians back to their hibernation caves. Malcolm Hulke knows it, because he’s set up an even better and bitter finale.
As the Doctor drives back to London, the Brigadier sets off a series of underground explosions and buries the Silurians forever, one assumes exterminating them in the process. This of course harks right back to Episode 1 and the Doctor’s assertion that the military mind will always fire a gun when words might suffice.
“That’s murder!” the Third Doctor declares, with bold intransigence. “They were a whole race of intelligent alien beings and he’s just wiped them out.”
Calling out this genocide is the moment when Jon Pertwee solidifies his image as the Doctor. He does so much earlier than his predecessors. We know he will side with the afflicted, the oppressed, but not to further any other power or authority. Might is not always right for this Doctor. While he doesn’t countenance warlike races, he won’t counsel the same behaviours in his allies. Peaceful reconciliation and arbitration are his metal; fighting is a last resort and killing as unwanted in an enemy as a friend. You sense this could be the start of a rocky relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier. It also demonstrates that the era of black and white Dr Who adventures, both in visual terms and in moral, emotive shades, is well and truly past.
A stupendous, magnificent achievement:
THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH
David Whitaker’s final script for Dr Who was largely re-written and it shows in the elongated narrative, enacted through a series of excitingly choregraphed violent stand-offs, a curiously benign and mysterious alien, a twisting slightly plodding plotline enlivened by another group of all-round classy performances. The Ambassadors of Death also tickles us with a gamut of homages to films and television series and presages of some to come. As such, the serial is very enjoyable and easy to identify with.
The story kick-starts with a space rescue. Recovery Probe One has been sent to intercept Mars Probe 7, a manned space mission to the red planet which has been out of earth radio contact for several months. When the recovery vessel also suffers radio silence, UNIT and the Doctor are brought in to investigate. Mission controller Ralph Cornish [an astute Ronald Allen] is struggling manfully to get his astronauts back. This reminds us of the Gregory Peck drama Marooned and more recent films such as Apollo 13 or Space Cowboys, where action is often centred around Mission Control. It helps immeasurably that David Myerscough-Jones has provided a well realised control centre, with high ceilings, a bustling core and suitably grand display screens. It doesn’t seem to feature enough technicians, a cost-cutting oversight on the part of the producers no doubt. I always chuckle at the assumption Britain would be able to send a man into space. It’s disappointing there’s no indication the Mars project is an international effort such as the one we witnessed in The Tenth Planet, which itself kicked off with a stricken deep space probe.
We quickly learn that someone, or something, is trying to contact earth. Liz Shaw – sporting a new hairstyle, leather boots and an even shorter skirt – analyses a piercing aural message and pieces together a pictorial sequence which when decoded identifies how to build scientific equipment. This reminded me of Jeff Goldblum analysing alien traffic in Independence Day, which shows how ahead of the game Dr Who was in 1970. Later on Myerscough-Jones shows us a huge holding chamber for the space capsule; this resembles the Area 51 bay housing the alien artefacts from the same movie. How portentous is that? Back to Dr Who, the capsule has crash landed and the astronauts, who are in fact alien beings, are secreted away to a safe house. They live off radiation and can inflict physical damage merely by touch; an unfortunate side-effect which results in the death of several humans, an affliction a similarly unfortunate villain suffered from in an episode of The Avengers [The Radioactive Man].
At this point the story is developing more as a sci-fi / espionage story. We have a radioactive empty space capsule, missing astronauts, kidnapped heroines, sabotage, pistol wielding scientists, chases, gun fights, intrigue, deluded soldiers and even more deluded politicians. A secret military organisation known as the Space Security Department and its head General Carrington – himself a former Mars astronaut – appear to be at the centre of it all, but exactly what they are hoping to achieve isn’t clear until the very end. One of their number, Reegan has designs on the aliens himself, hoping to use them to commit extravagant crimes. The appearance in earth orbit of a half-mile wide extra-terrestrial craft only heightens the tension. The Doctor is intent on trying to negotiate with whatever is out there and must use all his powers of persuasion to be allowed to do so.
Here, the serial compares itself with Kubrick’s 2001, perhaps for more recent eyes Contact or Arrival, as the Doctor travels to the huge space ship and enters via a hallucinogenic corridor. He learns that the peaceful, intelligent aliens met General Carrington on Mars – they are not Martians themselves; they travelled there – and he agreed to introduce the ambassadors to earth. Instead, the General believes the aliens to be invaders and wants to reveal the ambassadors live to a worldwide TV audience and scare earth’s leaders into launching an attack on the aliens.
Ambassadors recycles many other ideas too. A benevolent alien attempting to communicate with earth reminds us of the classic fantasy The Day the Earth Stood Still, while radioactive astronauts recalls The Quatermass Experiment. The enemies of Captain Scarlett also hid on Mars. The Doctor piloting a rocket to the rescue immediately reminds us of last season’s The Seeds of Death; the Doctor must have learnt a lot from Zoe as he was only the co-pilot on that mission. Eventually, through a series of well-staged action and intrigue sequences, the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier prevent Carrington’s crazy publicity stunt and the ambassadors can be returned to their craft. The serial ends with the Doctor, who has already marked the genocidal warmonger as insane, telling Carrington: “Yes, General, I understand.”
What he’s really telling Carrington, and by extension us, the audience, is that he understands the man is mentally unhinged. These sudden endings were in vogue during the early seventies. The writers do not provide all the solutions to all the problems or extenuate every sentence. They leave the moral dilemmas for an audience to resolve themselves. If you watch early episodes of The Sweeny, Van Der Valk or U.F.O., there is plenty of evidence of this kind of rapid finale. I quite enjoy them. The idea an audience has to be spoon-fed solutions, that every thread of a story needs to be neatly tied up, isn’t apparent here, which is much how real life works; these things take time.
So it's odd to consider the pace of the adventure, which seems hopelessly constricted. One of the joys of the earthbound historical serials was they allowed an adventure to spread over several weeks. Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror and The Romans are at pains to demonstrate how much physical time has elapsed. Here, when we quite clearly should be spending weeks attempting to unpick the situation, the action passes ostensibly in days. So, these military types are able to procure equipment at a moment’s notice, rocket ships are fuelled and launched in hours, tests carried out in minutes, journeys made seemingly in seconds. When we first meet the Doctor he is experimenting on the TARDIS’ Time Vector Generator and accidentally sends Liz fifteen seconds into the future. Sometimes, you think Carrington, Reegan and Cornish must have all dropped into the Time Warp Field, they can sort issues so fast.
[Point of order: how did the Doctor get the control console out of the TARDIS? I thought he’d been redecorating until I realised Liz was holding open a door. Very odd.]
Two things mark The Ambassadors of Death as unusually successful. Firstly, the writers ensure the aliens are of almost secondary importance. They are not the source of evil. This has occurred already in Dr Who [The Sensorites, Galaxy Four, The Faceless Ones] but here the show is very specific in also marking Carrington as not a villain, although he is villainous. No; the General is instead a delusional madman who must be stopped yet also requires our [and the hero’s] understanding. Not actually revealing the aliens – there’s a very brief glimpse of one – helps create a sensation of them being beyond our comprehension. It’s a little like the encounters shared by Mulder and Scully in The X-Files, where nothing is quite what it appears, but we, and the paranormal detectives, never understand what they face either.
The other, more noticeable, facet to Ambassadors is the thriller twists the writers [Whitaker and the uncredited Terrance **** and Malcolm Hulke] gave it. Like Whitaker’s own Enemy of the World, we have chases, fights, gun battles and lots of espionage type conspiracies which bring to mind our old friend James Bond: the Brigadier wonders if the astronauts may have been kidnapped by a foreign power, Bessie has a neat anti-theft device, an escape van has revolving number plates, a man is killed by an exploding briefcase, another by radioactive isotopes, there’s fair stunt work, adroit purposeful kidnappings, many sudden shocking killings. There’s even a fantastic reference to Goldfinger: “With them, I could walk into Fort Knox,” declares Reegan of the alien ambassadors. This is a whole lot of fun and very exciting, in its own tea-time fashion.
Director Michael Ferguson understands this and spends most of this stint developing the characters and the undercurrent of political, military or intelligence gameplaying. He even makes the tele-journalist, John Wakefield [played by Michael Wisher, an actor who would return several times to the show] into a shifty hack who interferes in proceedings looking for his scoop. Dallas Cavell’s Quinlan is another career motivated politician. John Abineni deserves credit for making Carrington a more reserved madman; it would have been easy to have him veer into megalomania, but he’s more complicated than that, believing his moral duty as a soldier is to protect the world. When he surrenders his revolver to the Brigadier, you sense his world has now collapsed.
Jon Pertwee is brilliant once again, being a point of authority as no Doctor has ever been. He commands respect from people and gets it through demonstration and civility, occasionally with bloody-mindedness. He doesn’t suffer fools. Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier, ever efficient, appears to have learnt from his encounter with the Silurians as he doesn’t leap to the same conclusion as Carrington; this may however be more to do with his doubts about the function of the Space Security Department, which usurps his own authority. Liz, disappointingly, is kidnapped half-way through the tale, but even under duress she serves a function many companions couldn’t, as her science skills enable her to help keep the alien ambassadors alive. Caroline John gives as good as she gets in several encounters with William Dysart’s nasty hoodlum Reegan.
My experience watching Ambassadors was disrupted by Uncle Earl’s online copies switching from colour to black and white mid-episode. I know the serial is available in a colourised format, because I’ve seen it. The show looks very classy in colour, not so good in monochrome. So, if you want to, do watch this one in colour, you’ll not be disappointed. If The Ambassadors of Death doesn’t quite match the heights of the previous two serials, it certainly solidifies the schematics of earthbound, UNIT based stories and, like this, long may they prosper:
“The same time, the same place, only a different dimension,” says the Doctor, attempting to explain his enforced absence to Liz Shaw. “It was a parallel world. Terrible things are happening there. It wasn’t this earth and yet it was. I didn’t go backwards into the past or forwards into the future. I slipped sideways… Sir Keith, you’re alive – that’s excellent. So not everything was parallel. An infinity of universes ergo an infinite number of alternatives. So free will is not an illusion after all. The pattern can be changed!”
Don Houghton’s Inferno is the first taste for Dr Who viewers of the theory of parallel or alternate universes, that somewhere in the dimensions of space and time fractures occur allowing differing outcomes to result in similar but fundamentally adjusted worlds. The Classic Series doesn’t involve itself much with the premise, which makes this adventure somewhat unique, although the rebooted series has a fine old time with them, appearing more as a device to prevent having to justify erroneous timelines than any attempt to develop a profound message. Not so here. Don Houghton is at pains to impress on the audience that while the Doctor escapes an alternate future – one the Time Lords obviously don’t know exists or they might have exiled him there – it is the learning he brings back with him that enables him to change the actual future of this world for the better. As one alternative catastrophically explodes another continues to flourish and mature.
The adventure is based at an unnamed government energy facility where a computer operated, nuclear powered, remote drill is penetrating towards the earth’s core. The plan is to release Stahlman’s Gas – a massive energy resource hypothesised by the single-minded Professor Stahlman, brilliantly portrayed as brusque, perpetually bothered and culpably infallible by Olaf Pooley. The project director Sir Keith Gold [Christopher Benjamin] and deep drilling expert Greg Sutton [Derek Newark] both have their doubts, but Stahlman insists, even against all evidence, that there is no danger involved by breaking the earth’s inner crust.
The Doctor is even more vehemently against it. He’s been allowed to observe Stahlman’s Project – nicknamed Inferno by the technicians – and use the nuclear power to fuel his experiments with the TARDIS console. Things aren’t going well for the Doctor, no sooner has he arrived than a maintenance engineer contracts a metabolism-changing infection and becomes a werewolf-like Primord. The exact purpose of these primeval ‘monsters’ to the plot and exactly why and how they occur is never properly explained. It’s one of the weak points in an otherwise exceptionally strong story. Meanwhile, the Doctor once more tries to escape the Earth only to find himself caught in a Time Field Barrier; some great visuals from Len Hutton allow this extended sequence of time distortion to be gripping and painful, both to the Doctor and our eyes.
As the situation at the drilling station deteriorates, and nobody appears to see sense, the Doctor, slightly out of character, rages at the incompetence and pettiness of Prof Stahlman and in a fit of pique, finally manages to make his getaway. Yet he only finds himself transported to The Republic, a fascist led alternative Britain, where the monarchy were executed in 1943 and the 1984 style leader has unleashed a personality cult and built a stringent totalitarian regime based around the slogan ‘Unity is Strength.’
The Doctor is stunned to meet an alternate Liz Shaw, kitted in Nazi brown, and behaving in a most unladylike manner. Ditto the Brigadier, who has lost his moustache and gained a horrific facial scar [rather like Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld in You Only Live Twice] and an eyepatch. He’s a callous, militaristic, narrow-minded, bureaucratic puppet, whose solution to everything is intimidation and execution. “I keep telling you,” argues the Doctor, “I don’t exist here.” “Then you won’t feel the bullets when we shoot you,” replies the Brigade Leader. He’s a dab hand at torture too and in tandem with an abrupt, mean spirited Liz Shaw, the Doctor is put through the ringer before making good his escape. Unfortunately this stops him from preventing the drilling and as the Earth’s crust is broken, chaos and disaster break out, as do a horde of Primords.
These parallel universe scenes, which occupy the bulk of the story are very action orientated. The Doctor is chased, caught, has fist fights using Venusian Karate, roughed up, tortured and imprisoned. He even has a moment to sweet talk the new blunt Liz Shaw into sympathising with his plight, which he does with much delicacy. The Doctor is completely isolated for these moments. His companions are all in the other, real world and he’s having to forge new alliances quickly to aid his cause. He’s fighting two fronts: Stahlmann’s delirium and the Brigade Leader’s malice. Entirely abandoned, this is about as close as the Doctor ever gets to being a children’s sci-fi version of James Bond, a comparison many critics make about Jon Pertwee’s interpretation of the Time Lord. At one point he even dresses up in a protective suit and attempts to sabotage the parallel Inferno Project, a sequence very much like Bond’s own infiltration of Dr No’s nuclear power room.
Perhaps better and more obviously presented is the environmental angle Houghton gives the story. In the alternate world, as Stahlmann’s project goes horribly wrong, the Doctor exclaims: “Can’t you hear it? That’s the sound of the planet screaming out its rage!” Obliquely Houghton is telling us that commercial and government exploitation of the earth’s mineral and elemental wealth is not always a good thing. The planet is our fragile friend and needs our help, not our wounding. Additionally, the constant threat of a nuclear meltdown hangs over both Projects. The Doctor believes the drill will unleash a hell greater than Krakatoa. He’s correct on both counts. It still isn’t clear where the heat absorbing Primords fit into this.
Aided by the sceptic drill engineer Greg Sutton and Stahlmann’s officious assistant Petra [a very attractive Sheila Dunn, competing with Caroline John for the show’s shortest mini-skirt] the Doctor just about makes good his escape, but not before the earth’s core has split the world irrevocably. The mid-story episodes are tension wracked and superbly played by the cast. It’s fun and frightening in equal measure to see differing versions of Liz, the Brigadier and Sgt Benton, as well as the guest characters Stahlmann, Greg Sutton and Petra Williams. Each actor brings a new dimension to their character, exaggerating subtle differences or underlying personality traits. As the original story progresses, we notice some of the more alarming or compassionate facets of the alternative character’s coming to the fore in the real world: the Brigadier becomes more belligerent and aggressive, Sutton becomes more argumentative and demanding, Petra begins to doubt her superior. It is perhaps only the driven obsessive Stahlman who doesn’t change. Other than losing his beard and gaining an extra ‘n’ on his surname, he’s almost an identikit model of the first Professor.
The Doctor returns just in time to prevent a replica disaster at the real Inferno Project, although those roaming Primords don’t help matters. Hats off here to the excellent make up by Marion Richards. There’s a particularly gripping transformation sequence in episode 5 when the alternate Sgt Benton turns into one of the hairy beasts which compares favourably to similar scenes in Universal and Hammer horror flicks. Overall, the production standards are very high, although the blue screen work leaves something to be desired. The ‘red dust’ camera shots by Fred Hamilton are excellent, allowing us to imagine the disintegrating earth boiling with lava. Jeremy Davies’ sets are a credit, although he doesn’t need to create many. Douglas Camfield directed only the opening two episodes before illness forced his retirement; producer Barry Letts helmed the remainder. At times though, it feels as if only Martyn Day’s editing is driving the action.
What primarily hinders Inferno is its length. It was established as early as Season 3 that the optimum length of a serial was four episodes. Over the years several stories have doubled that length and several six-episode stories have become gripping and intelligent mini-masterpieces. Generally though, a high episode count leads to accusations of padding. Inferno is highly suggestive of a shorter story attempting to escape a long one. Because the solution to the problem has already been identified, there’s no tension in the final scenario. After a fashion, the serial is repeating in episode 7 everything we saw in episode 5. The alternate universe ploy succeeds, but could have triumphed as a story all of its own without the surrounding cage of the actual Inferno Project or the interventions of those growling wolf-men.
According to John Marc Lofficer, Inferno and the previous serial The Ambassadors of Death were both extended to accommodate the cancellation of a fifth story, which would have seen the return of the Autons. Apparently this is not the case, but it is noticeably long and two-parted. The cracks appear in the two slightly rambling and overlapping narratives. Despite the grandstand performances on display and the environmental message offered, Inferno lacks a climatic cutting edge; its drama unfolds on a separate world and finishes before the conclusion proper.
Still, a well-deserved:
Zoe in her space-age sparkling catsuit, clinging to the TARDIS console... surely the highlight of the Troughton era :-) :-)
@Shady Tree Yes, very probably, but I'm trying to keep my critic's hat on... really, really trying...
Season 7 is arguably the best season ever of Classic Dr Who. It is of course a difficult case to argue. There are only four stories, although these stretch over twenty-five weeks, and none of them venture far into outer space. However, the era of Sylvester McCoy also featured only four adventures per season and I don’t recall those years being anywhere near as impressive as this.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the praise. Firstly, perhaps, it’s worth noting the success Jon Pertwee is as the Third Doctor. He asserts himself quickly. The audience comes to respect and listen to this authority figure, a man who is never anything less than certain of himself. His disdain for the incompetent and hatred of the vainglorious is even more pronounced than it was with his predecessors. He’s prickly with everybody. But whereas William Hartnell made this a negative, bolshie character trait, Pertwee demonstrates his authority and knowledge, allowing him to break down barriers and build confidences. He isn’t sly either, or jovial, like Patrick Troughton. There is no doubting this Doctor’s confidence and competence. I like Jon Pertwee’s interpretation. I enjoy the hands-on nature of his character. He can fight and remonstrate and drive cars. He’s deadly serious. Alien invasions and disastrous scientific experiments are not laughing matters – they endanger lives, races and planets and can even cause cosmic misalignments.
That the stories are all based on earth, the planet to which the Doctor has been exiled, is both convenient and welcome. Importantly, the production values have been raised because designers and costumers and effects wizards don’t have to create anything too alien-looking. Most of the cast of all four stories are human and if not, they are humanoid. This aids the overall look and feel of the show. It doesn’t appear cheap anymore. Colour transmissions help too. While black and white has its pleasures, colour would have sensationalised some of Troughton’s monster stories. Here the Autons are superb and while the Silurians and Primords don’t quite make such a grade, they are not disgracing the show. The lack of Dalek-style robots helps too.
On earth, the Doctor works, unofficially for UNIT. This provides us with two new companions: Liz Shaw, a sceptical science officer, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Both Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney give fantastic accounts of their characters. John starts to get side-lined in Ambassadors and is on record as saying she preferred playing her fascist alternate character in Inferno. That new Liz is certainly a tough customer. There are other UNIT personnel too. I was disappointed Cpt Munroe never returned; Johnny Breslin was rather good. He’s replaced first by Cpt Hawkins – played by Paul Darrow, later of Blake’s 7 – and then Sgt Benton, a returning John Levene. UNIT provides a solid, regular background for the Doctor to inhabit. He becomes a sort of special science agent and works for an organisation who are basically alien hunters. We know every week the threat will come to earth, the question now is how, not where.
Additionally, without monsters to play with, the script writers have provided good solid believable supporting characters and for once recruitment has been spot on every single time. The success rate of each story is almost wholly due to the ensemble playing of the cast. We feel for these characters, appreciate their predicaments, share their fears and misunderstandings, they are well-rounded and brilliantly executed people. The lack of sentiment surrounding them is noticeable too. When people die in this early colour era, they die quickly and horribly. Scenes of torture and imprisonment feature several times and it isn’t only alien life-forms dishing out the strong treatments. We learn humankind can be as detestable as extra-terrestrials.
Things settle down a little by the end of the season. The Doctor, who hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with the Brigadier, is in a conciliatory mood and resigns himself in part to a long exile. Liz seems firmly wedded to UNIT whether she likes it or not. The level of scripting, direction, acting and camerawork across the season is outstanding. Even when a story dips, the writers manage to pick it up within two or three scenes; there is barely a dull moment. Perhaps with fewer stories to focus on the production team have been able to concentrate their forces and make certain Dr Who crashed successfully and quite marvellously into the 1970s.
we Bondfans should all appreciate Pertwee...
...because he was an actual spy during World War II and worked with Fleming!
see Daily Mail article
…The actor, who died in 1996 aged 76, was a senior intelligence agent during the Second World War and reported directly to Winston Churchill.
He was also recommended for another role by James Bond creator Ian Fleming – and proved to be an expert in using a range of 007-like gadgets, including a smoking pipe that fired bullets and handkerchiefs containing secret maps.
The revelations – in a long-lost tape-recorded interview – confirm that Pertwee’s wartime activities were as remarkable as his acting career, which saw him play the third incarnation of the Doctor between 1970 and 1974.
Pertwee said he kept silent about the nature of his covert role with the Naval Intelligence Division for decades for fear of breaching the Official Secrets Act...
the article goes on for a lot longer than that, so follow the link. But here's the bit about Fleming
...Pertwee also worked alongside Ian Fleming during his spell with Naval Intelligence. He recalled: ‘One day Fleming sent me for an interview for a job. They wanted a good French speaker.
‘I thought the job was going to be liaison with the Free French. I did not fancy that at all, so I deliberately messed up the interview, pretending I could not understand what they were saying at times and throwing in the most inappropriate answers.
‘Afterwards, when Fleming got the report back, he said they did not want me and how badly I had done. I confessed I had done it on purpose because I did not want to work with de Gaulle’s mob.
‘He told me I was a blithering idiot because the interview was a chance to be our man in Tahiti.’...
OK Fleming called him a blithering idiot, but its still a cool story and demonstrates he had attitude in real life as well!
I know I've seen all of Pertwee's first two seasons. There's only four stories in his first, and they're all considered essential. As well as the mannikins breaking out of shop windows in Spearhead..., what I particularly remember is the alternate universe with the evil Liz Shaw and the evil Brigadier. The show looks so much better in colour, and with all the filmed segments shot outdoors. I've heard the whole concept of an earthbound Doctor was to save money from building all those wobbly sets, and if true in this case cost cutting made for a better looking show. It also seems more adult, we're no longer geeks overanalysing a children's show when we watch these episodes. And Liz Shaw is a grownup lady, unlike all the previous pintsize Susan successors, and this Doctor flirts with his companion.
A lot of these plots are environmental horror stories, resulting from humans digging too deep into the earth, etc. Perhaps because he cant explore space, the threats have to be earthbound too, but this makes the plots actually relevant and theyre still relevant today.
A while back I watched the Hammer production of Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and that film seems like a prototype of this era of Doctor Who in several ways, typical plot and supporting characters.
Shady Tree said:
Zoe in her space-age sparkling catsuit, clinging to the TARDIS console... surely the highlight of the Troughton era :-) :-)
its just too bad this gif cuts just as its getting really interesting. Youll all have to watch the exciting episode to see what happens next!
TERROR OF THE AUTONS
Jon Pertwee’s second season as the Doctor kicks off energetically with the return of the Nestene Consciousness and its plastic robots the Autons. Sadly, the plot basically rehashes what we already saw in Spearhead from Space, so there are no narrative surprises. The major change has the creepy, expressionless Facsimile Channing replaced with a new arch-nemesis for the Doctor in the shape of a fellow renegade Time Lord, the Master.
The elegant Roger Delgado fills out this role perfectly. He’s so good he almost over shadows Jon Pertwee. The two men are like chalk and cheese. Pertwee’s hero is strident, implacable and somewhat stroppy, albeit with good intentions. Delgado’s villain is devious, urbane and unflappable, albeit with domination and power on his mind. Both men are phenomenally arrogant; when the Doctor remarks that the Master is the most conceited man he knows, the Brigadier casts him a more than knowing glance. Quite what brings the Master to earth is not clear, but he appears to have knowledge of the Nestene, for soon after arriving he steals the sole remaining meteorite, planning to activate it and summon another invasion.
The other difference is in the UNIT staff. Liz Shaw has returned to Cambridge. According to the Brigadier she perceptively realised the Doctor has no need of an assistant scientist; he only needs someone to “pass him test tubes and make cups of coffee.” Lethbridge-Stewart is certain the new recruit, Jo Grant, will be capable of that. Katy Manning’s Jo makes a fair impression first off, but she is a very traditional companion, needing almost everything explained to her. Ditto the new UNIT Captain, Mike Yates [a dismal debut by Richard Franklin] who isn’t a patch on Munro or Hawkins from the last season. Luckily we still have the Brigadier and Benton to keep us amused.
Jo Grant is thrown straight into the action, discovering the plastics factory, getting hypnotised by the Master and almost assassinating the Doctor. He’s been put on alert about his old rival by the Time Lords, one of whom delivers a message by hovering in mid-air and wearing a pinstripe suit and bowler hat. Writer Robert Holmes doesn’t treat the all-powerful Time Lords with any type of respect. This apparition is more like a sci-fi version of James Bond’s M, handing sage advice and, effectively, giving the Doctor a mission to complete. Incognito, he maybe, but this Time Lord is ridiculous and needless. The two foes eventually come face to face anyway and their bitter past could easily have been discussed then. In fact, having the Doctor not know he was confronting a fellow Time Lord for most of the narrative might have made the adventure more worthwhile. As it stands we rely on the shock factor to excite us.
Following the title, Terror of the Autons does its best to do just that: terrify. The Autons are given new shiny, completely barren faces. The first reveal of one as it impersonates a policeman is stunning. Another hides in a wall safe. A third is knocked down a cliff, rights itself and carries on immediately, intent to return to battle. This is possibly one of the most frightening moments in Dr Who history as the scene brings home to the audience the indestructability of the Autons. [This stunt was performed for real and the stuntman was badly injured performing it.]
Additionally, the Master has several neat lines in extermination: he has a molecular contraction device which shrinks people to death, he’s developed an ugly looking devil doll which attacks humans, a daffodil which squirts liquid plastic, grenades more powerful than atomic weapons and a telephone cable which takes on a life of its own and tries to strangle the Doctor – this last unintentionally hilarious. Most alarming is the self-inflating plastic armchair which murders a victim through suffocation, a grimly realistically looking weapon which must have stopped children sitting on inflatables for years.
However there is no sense of the scale of invasion like there had been in the previous Auton story. There’s no mass break out of shop mannequins, instead we have a busload of Autons roaming the country handing out deadly daffs. It all feels a little low key. As if to emphasise the modest aspirations of the story, at the climax, the Master basically gets cold feet. For such a supposedly evil character it was disappointing the Doctor convinces him to switch sides with one questioning sentence: “You really think they’ll distinguish between you and us?” This is hardly the dynamic of Sherlock Holmes versus Professor Moriarty the producers were hoping to recreate. It was hopelessly elementary.
The production values are bearable. There’s an over reliance on Colour Separation Overlay which makes some scenes appear very silly. Commentators have remarked Terror of the Autons looks like a comic book and I see what they mean. My view is that excessive CSO simply removes any sense of class from the show and makes it look as if it was produced by ‘boys with toys.’
3 from 5.
He’s been put on alert about his old rival by the Time Lords, one of whom delivers a message by hovering in mid-air and wearing a pinstripe suit and bowler hat. Writer Robert Holmes doesn’t treat the all-powerful Time Lords with any type of respect. This apparition is more like a sci-fi version of James Bond’s M, handing sage advice and, effectively, giving the Doctor a mission to complete.
I seem to recall Genesis of the Daleks also begins with a TimeLord assigning the Doctor a mission. Did this happen often? Was this a condition of his sentence from the War Games, that he was obliged to do these sort of jobs upon command?
Genesis does start like that. To answer your question, I don't think it was a condition of his sentence.
Pertwee's Doctor is called upon 4 times to act as a surrogate agent of the Time Lords [Colony in Space, Curse of Peladon, The Mutants, The Three Doctors.] I have a vague memory he was starting to get a bit p~~~~d off about it, but I can't remember the episode. However, he also uses the Time Lords to direct the TARDIS in Planet of the Daleks, so it's something of a two-way arrangement, I feel.
Baker's Doctor is employed directly in Genesis, but there's a suggestion the Time Lord's time ring brings the Doctor to the point in time where he meets the Cybermen - I'll reflect on this later in Season 12.
I always wondered if the TARDIS itself, being interconnected to the central TARDIS system as demonstrated by the War Chief, deliberately sends the Doctor to places of peril so he can sort out the universe - and he just hasn't realised it yet !
THE MIND OF EVIL
The Mind of Evil is a mess. Don Houghton’s previous epic, Inferno, cleverly interwove two narratives, which overlapped and linked brilliantly. Here, he develops four threads and seems incapable of deciding which one is the most important. The opening two episodes follow the Chinese diplomat Captain Chin Lee [played with glorious emptiness by Pik Sen Lim], who is responsible for a series of deaths at the United Nations World Peace Conference. The middle sections encompass a prison break organised by the ruthless inmate Mailer [William Marlowe, effectively violent]. The final episode concerns a Thunderbolt Missile, which the Master intends to use to annihilate the Peace mission. Overarching across all these is an alien mind parasite which the Master – disguised as the Swiss scientist Emil Keller – is using to absorb the evil emotions from condemned criminals.
Individually each of these stories offers something of interest to the adventure, together they refuse to gel. Exactly what the Master is hoping to achieve by conducting one monstrous plan alongside the others is never made clear. The diplomatic angle, which was very James Bond and seemed to suggest an international conspiracy, is completely forgotten once they’ve realised Chin Lee was unwittingly the Master’s pawn. The prison break is the most active ingredient, with a series of battles and confrontations set at the fictional Stangmoor Prison, actually Dover Castle. The attempted coup happens twice. The first time it is foiled by Jo Grant, shooting pistols and karate-chopping with some glee. The second revolt, instigated by the Master, forms the most robust and exciting moments of the serial, albeit they are not startlingly original. They do though help keep the audience entertained while the drivel about the Thunderbolt Missile unravels. This is by far the weakest segment and recalls one of the problems with Robert Markham’s James Bond novel Colonel Sun, in that if you want to blow up a peace conference, why are you bothering to create a complicated exo-operation surrounding your main intent? It makes complete nonsense of Chin Lee’s efforts to kill the delegates individually if they’re all to be wiped out anyway.
The most challenging aspect of the adventure is the alien parasite. It isn’t a very spectacular alien, being nothing more than a blob with a curiously human-looking eye. It stays trapped inside a cylindrical container, although it does develop an ability to teleport, which oddly involves also transporting the cylinder and the control box it sits on. Exactly how the parasite absorbs evil thoughts isn’t clear, nor is its reason for killing. Its assault method – frightening victims to death by confronting them with their greatest fear, e.g. drowning or rats – gives rise to some dodgy SFX and even dodgier science, e.g. you can’t have water in your lungs if you’ve died from only a fear of drowning. The Doctor’s great dread appears to be pyrophobia. He manages to elude the parasite’s attack and looks suitably worn out by the experience, throwing himself into a coma again, exactly as he did in Inferno. It isn’t fire itself which scares him, but the end of the world; his phobia has been exacerbated by his knowledge of watching the alternate earth explode.
The idea the Doctor is mentally effected by his past experiences is new to the show. He’s never dwelt much on what has gone before in his life or lives, but here for once the Doctor is genuinely haunted. It is interesting too that the Master’s terror is an image of the Third Doctor, mocking him with uproarious laughter. This clearly suggests the supposedly powerful renegade Time Lord has an inferiority complex, which may explain his constant need to prove himself as the root of all things chaotic. The Master isn’t as interesting as he was on his debut. He’s spent at least six months developing the Keller Machine, taken up smoking cigars and travels around London in a chauffeur driven Rolls. [Point of order: what happened to the chauffeur?] The problem with the Master’s presence in The Mind of Evil is that you do feel he isn’t really required. His role could quite easily have been filled by an actual Professor Emil Keller. It’s only in the final act, with his threat to dominate a post-war world, that he seems to become relevant. Thank goodness Roger Delgado makes him watchable.
The adventure ends with a bang. Burnham [Neil McCarthy], a prisoner made into a simpleton by the effects of the Keller Machine, sacrifices himself in a misguided attempt to save the Master’s life. Jo Grant displays some courage and fortitude under pressure, but she’s still completely hopeless when it comes to science. UNIT seems to employ more personnel by the episode. The Brigadier looks pleased the Doctor is resigned to kicking his heels on earth for a while longer. [There’s been an ongoing sub-plot about the Doctor stealing and attempting to modify the dematerialisation circuit from the Master’s TARDIS; another unnecessary diversion.] Despite the action orientated story and the good production values, The Mind of Evil is very work-a-day material.
I had difficulty watching this adventure because the colourised episodes are tricky to track down online; many of them are ‘reversed’ left-to-right, which is fine if you can stomach it. The best two I found were subtitled in Spanish.
Apparently this story went so far over budget, director Timothy Coombe, who did such good work on The Silurians, was banned from Dr Who productions forever. That expense might show on screen, but the creativity is sorely lacking – four of the episode-ending cliff-hangers are exactly the same.
there's a 21st century Matt Smith episode called The Doctor's Wife that addresses this question directly, so to speak. One of two Moffat-era episodes written by Neil (Sandman) Gaiman.