Doctor Who Rewatch: 05

I was deeply irritated to discover that a draft I had written of this post mysteriously got deleted after I had rewatched (and written up) 23 episodes of the 26 covered here. But sometimes that is the way the cookie crumbles. The thoughts below are therefore not quite as spontaneous, or as long, as I would have liked. But I hope they will be mildly entertaining.

I am a real fan of The Savages, which is a rare case of Hartnell-era Who taking a standard sfnal plot and getting it right. The Doctor is a heroic, mythic figure to the Elders who have been following him for a long time; but he is also a heroic figure for us, standing up for Good against Evil even at the cost of his own vital essence. Indeed, the nastiness of the Elders is rather scary; a combination of Plato and Mengele. Note also Frederick Jaeger’s brilliant performance as Jano when possessed by the essence of the First Doctor. And the incidental music is superb, and Steven gets a decent sendoff. Poor Dodo is crying her eyes out.

Steven has now seen off Barbara, Vicki, Katarina, Sara Kingdom, and leaves only two episodes before Dodo. It must have been a bit frustrating for Purves being essentially Hartnell’s straight man, and I can also see why the new production team wanted a male companion who was less of a blank slate – I think we know less about Steven’s background than any other companion of the black and white era. His finest moment comes when he is on his own in The Massacre (and I’m sure he was totally bonking Anne Chaplette, and her [their?] descendant Dodo too).

I knew Purves when I was a child from his long years on Blue Peter, and remember being stunned to discover that he had been a Doctor Who companion. His restrained but dramatic tones illustrate the audio releases of his (sadly many) lost stories, and he did an early and good Companion Chronicle for Big Finish, set in the Napoleonic wars.

Incidentally, I am keeping a running tally of things still in the Tardis somewhere: the Fifth Key of Marinus, Susan’s other shoe, and Hi-Fi, Steven’s cuddly panda.

The War Machines is another great story. Good heavens, the First Doctor, of all Doctors, in a London night club? I think his only successor to venture to such a place is Nine, and that is during the Blitz. Indeed this is one of the most New Who-like stories, with an sfnal threat in contemporary London, and Kenneth Kendall performing a role taken by Andrew Marr in Aliens of London.

The theme of technology being misused is shared with the previous story; so is the Doctor being a known quanitity, who can just turn up with some companion to crash on Sir Charles’ spare bed. The plot is good and Hartnell in his element (likewise all three companions). The DVD extras point out that James Cameron uses the what-if-WOTAN-won scenario for the future in the Terminator films, and presumably this is the most likely source for a Canadian lad in the late 60s. Shame that the War Machines themselves are a bit rubbish, and Dodo deserved a better sendoff.

Speaking of which, I have already written a lot (probably far too much) about Dodo Chaplet. I think I must revise my opinion of Jackie Lane’s acting skills upwards, having now watched all her stories in sequence; she is no Jean Marsh or Anneke Wills, but she sometimes rises above the material (and lack of direction) and is lovely and cuddly with both Hartnell and Purves. She is far from being the Worst Companion Of All Time. (Kamelion, anyone? Adric? Jo Grant? Victoria? Ace?) Dodo gets a rather tragic post-Tardis story in David Bishop’s Who Killed Kennedy? which at least gives her a better send-off than she was given on TV.

The Smugglers is also particularly hampered now by the loss of the visuals – the very few surviving clips make it look like this was a beautifully shot and directed story, and there is a long fight sequence in the last episode which we can now only guess at. The script is a bit lame, but has the peculiar supernatural incidents of Ben and Polly practicing witchcraft and the Doctor indulging in cartomancy, demonstrating Brian Hayles’ interest in the supernatural which was to come to fruition in Moon Stallion. I note also Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Squire playing almost the same role as in The Mutants several years later.

There are two things everyone knows about The Tenth Planet, but before I discuss them I will just mention that a) it is a much more chromatic story than we have ever had (excepting perhaps Marco Polo) with a Caribbean astronaut and a silent bloke in Geneva in an African garment; b) it loses marks for having no visible women apart from Polly and another Geneva-based operative who gets about two lines; c) once again the Doctor appears as a repository of mythic knowledge (we never see exactly what he writes down about the appearance of Mondas); d) the Z-Bomb plot of episode 3 is a bit out of left field but actually carries through the theme of misused technology rather well, from Mondas to Earth and the Cold War; and e) Robert Beatty smashes up a Belfast pub run by William Hartnell in Carol Reed’s film Odd Man Out, so Hartnell returns the favour here by bringing chaos to Beatty’s Antarctic base.

The second thing everyone knows about The Tenth Planet is that it is the first Cyberman story. There is only one better Cyberman story in the whole of Old and New Who (Tomb of the Cybermen, of course). The idea of people who have removed everything that made them people is an audacious one, and the unearthly voices and excellent music make it unforgettable. It is also the first “base under siege” story, and one of the best of that sub-genre. I am not at all surprised that it topped my recent poll of most eagerly anticipated DVD releases.

The first thing that everyone knows about The Tenth Planet is that it is William Hartnell’s last hurrah. In the first two episodes and the surviving clips from the last one he seems to be on top form, enjoying it through to the end. That final surviving clip of him approaching the camera and telling us that it is not all over is very spooky indeed. And then he falls to the floor, and his face shimmers and changes, and goodness, Doctor Who has died and been replaced by someone else. I found it pretty shocking after I first watched The Tenth Planet on its own, but now after 28 (or 29) stories and 134 episodes, it comes as a huge disorientation: the Doctor has gone.

There are some who feel that Hartnell actually Wasn’t Very Good. I would strongly contest that viewpoint. I will admit that he fluffs his lines more than would be acceptable today (probably more than was really acceptable even back then), and occasionally resorts to comic chortles and sniffs (though usually to cover a bad script). But he creates the Doctor as an alien unknowable character, in a way that only Tom Baker and Christopher Ecclestone after him achieved.

It also surely must be admitted that the First Doctor is the only one pre-2005 who actually gets any character development at all. As remarked above, at the beginning he is an obscure and somewhat cynical outsider, brought into local disputes by accidents of transportation; by the end he is an insider of heroic inclination – he is known by the Elders and Sir Charles Summers, who won’t let the villagers be massacred by the pirates, who knows the secret of Mondas. He has also cast aside his links with his own past – Susan left on the post-Dalek Earth, the Monk abandoned on a hostile planet. He has changed, and the nature of the story changes with him.

I have a piece brewing in my head about Shakespeare and Doctor Who, and just wanted to respond to a comment I saw somewhere comparing the Doctor – specifically, the First Doctor – to Prospero. There are huge and insuperable differences, it seems to me. Prospero is not a traveller; he is a sorcerous despot. He is not a righter of wrongs; he intimidates both locals and visitors in order to set his daughter up with the right man. At the end, Prospero gives it all up for an honourable retirement; but the Doctor simply becomes someone else. I will admit that they are both somewhat magical; but (to pick two that come to mind) Gandalf is rather more closely related to Ogion than Prospero to the First Doctor, and even that is not very close.

I have the unfashionable view that The Power of the Daleks is the better of the two Troughton stories featuring the malignant pepperpots. It’s a story about identity and motivations, with the new Doctor trying to establish the same confidence with his companions that the Daleks are attempting with the human colony on Vulcan, each of them masquerading (as the Examiner, and as servants, respectively). There are several very impressive performances here: Robert James as deluded Lesterson, moving from naïve credulity to horror at the magnitude of his mistake; Bernard Archard as the ambitious Bragen, nine years before he returned as Marcus Scarman, once again a human who dooms himself by trying to cut a deal with destructive alien forces; Pamela Ann Davy as Janley, an unusually strong female part for the era; and most of all, Peter Hawkins given far more than usual to do as the Daleks pretend to be servile.

This is also of course Troughton’s debut, and although Ben and Polly may not be sure who he is, we the audience are left in no doubt; partly from the way he dominates as an actor, but also by the fact that we are reassured in non-verbal ways by the way in which it is directed. Yet this is a new Doctor, brave but also terrified, fighting the Daleks not from outrage but from fear, while tootling on his recorder and wearing a funny hat. The programme is going in a new direction.

After all that, The Highlanders is a bit of a shift backwards. It is essentially a standard Who plot – Doctor and companions land, get separated and variously captured by the bad guys and need rescuing, and leave again – but set in the eighteenth century, and really, now that Who has found its sfnal soul, it seems pointless to do this without aliens or mad scientists, or preferably both. Having said that, there are some good bits – Hannah Gordon before she made the big time as Kirsty, Polly using her feminine wiles, the Doctor playing with identities again. But they take the rather thick young piper with then for some reason at the end. I wonder how long he will last?

This is the first run of stories where the historicals are noticeably weaker than the sfnals, The Smugglers and The Highlanders both being rather forgettable. Clearly the Lloyd / Davis team had little interest in continuing the sub-genre, and it’s not surprising that The Highlanders is the last of its kind.

A final point – I am nearly at the end of the longest continuous gap in the video record – from the last episode of The Tenth Planet to the second of The Underwater Menace inclusive, a baker’s dozen – and it is pretty infuriating. What a shame it is that the BBC threw so much work away.

< An Unearthly Child – The Aztecs | The Sensorites – The Romans | The Web Planet – Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown – The Gunfighters | The Savages – The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace – Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen – The Wheel In Space | The Dominators – The Space Pirates | The War Games – Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil – The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils – Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks – The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders – Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons – The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora – The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock – The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation – The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks – Shada | The Leisure Hive – The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis – The Visitation | Black Orchid – Mawdryn Undead | Terminus – The Awakening | Frontios – Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos – In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet – Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield – The TV Movie >