Doctor Who Rewatch: 07

Interesting to note that the six fifth-season stories in this run all have six episodes, and in all cases there was certainly scope for some judicious trimming. (I started the fifth season last time with Tomb of the Cybermen, which has four episodes.)

I’ve never been quite sure about The Abominable Snowmen. As so often with this era, we have to form a judgement on the basis of one surviving episode and the many surviving audio tapes. On the one hand, it is an interesting innovation on the base-under-siege storyline to make the base a Tibetan monastery; the location filming is good; the monsters are scary (both the big violent Yeti and the sinister disembodied Intelligence); and Wolfe Morris in particular is great as the ancient Padmasambhava and the evil presence possessing him. But (and I think I’ll be saying this a lot of the six-parters) it is an episode or two too long, and Travers and the monks keep on changing their minds about the Doctor or (in Travers’ case) running off up the mountain mainly to keep the story going.

This story does mark a new and largely positive portrayal of religion in Who. Up to now, we have had squabbling sectarians (The Crusade, The Massacre), deluded cultists (The Aztecs, The Underwater Menace) and religious buildings whose ostensible custodians are using them for another purpose (the Monk in The Time Meddler, the churchwarden in The Smugglers). But these Tibetan monks are sincere, not deluded; and while their leader may have been deceived by the Great Intelligence, their initial encounter was on one of Padmasambhava’s routine trips to the Astral Plane; and the meditation prayer actually works to ward off mind control. I shall start tracking this more systematically, I think.

I really enjoyed The Ice Warriors, though for once I was unable to locate a full recon of episodes 2 and 3 and so combined listening to the Fraser Hines narration with the cut down 17-minute edition of both. Yes, we have another base under siege; but what a base! The uniforms are particularly eye-melting (as Jamie remarks to Victoria at one point), and the interplay between Peter Barkworth’s dysfunctional leader Clent, Peter Sallis’ dissident scientist Elric (!) Penley, and Wendy Gifford’s Miss Garrett with her competing loyalties, is all very watchable. Although Hayles doesn’t overtly tackle the supernatural here, he does have the local humans slavishly worshipping their computer, rather than making their own judgemen.ts. Into this delicate situation blunder first the Ice Warriors and then the Tardis crew. My brother and I once got Bernard Bresslaw’s autograph on the strength of this story, which we hadn’t even seen back in 1982 or whenever it was. He does a great alien menace, establishing them for the next three stories they are in.

There are some unfortunate plot holes – exactly what is the geographical range of the Ioniser, or the story? The base, the spaceship, the Tardis and Penley and Storr’s hideout all seem to be within two minutes’ walk of each other. Jamie’s paralysis, apparently severe, is cured almost without comment, and Victoria is packed off to the Tardis half way through the last episode (presumably to get it right way up) and not seen again. And the Ice Warriors make the mistake also made by so many enemies of the Doctor of imprisoning him somewhere with easy access to their own weaponry. But it is a fun ride.

After a run of bases under siege by alien monsters, The Enemy of the World is a refreshing change of format, though not of setting – as with The Ice Warriors, we are in a not too distant future Earth with a technocratic government and natural disasters. While the previous story drew a lesson from over-reliance on the computer’s leadership, Enemy of the World critiques over-dependence on the judgement of a single human being – even if he happens to look like the Doctor. As so often with a David Whitaker script, there is more going on than meets the eye: consider Salamander as an alternative Doctor (which he actually tries to become in the closing minutes of the story); consider also the symbolism of the underground base, a store of subconscious knowledge and destructive actions.

The guest cast are very watchable – the future Castellan Spandrell as Denes, Colin Douglas as Bruce, and also Mary Peach as Astrid and Carmen Munro as Fariah being particularly strong supporting women characters (the latter getting I think the first decent speaking role for a woman of colour since Zienia Burton in Marco Polo. I also like the breadth of scenery – I don’t believe there is another TV Who story set in Australia, or a Who story in any medium set in Hungary. And we have a helicopter and a hovercraft! Barry Letts thinking big! But Troughton steals the show – it’s a real proof of his acting talents, and while the plot may not always make sense, he is always gripping in both roles. This is the first story to end with a cliffhanger since we saw a claw on the Tardis scanner at the end of The Moonbase.

In a season of base-under-siege stories, The Web of Fear marks the peak. Here the base is a mixed military / scientific outpost in Goodge Street tube station, with everyone operating to their own personal agenda; it becomes apparent early on that one of the team is an enemy agent, but we get a lot of misdirection as to who it is (though of course we fans now know, as the viewers of 1968 could not, that Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart is in the clear). A lot of the drama hinges on information flow and trust – the Doctor’s life is endangered in the first episode because Jamie and Victoria lie about his presence; in turn his plan is thwarted in the last episode because he didn’t tell them clearly enough what he was up to. Unlike the other base-under-siege stories, we don’t get much direct speech from the bad guys until the end of the story; also the base commander, in so far as there is one, isn’t as deranged as in most of the other such stories which makes a nice change.

It’s also rather good to have a returning character – I think Travers is the first to reappear since the Meddling Monk; perhaps we should count the Intelligence as well. (It is not at all clear that any of the various individual Daleks and Cybermen reappear from one story to the next; the evidence is rather against it.) It is a shame that we have lost the extended fight sequence in episode 4. Interesting to hear from Derrick Sherwin on the DVD commentary that he always intended The Web of Fear to be the first UNIT story, a concept he then brought to fruition as writer of The Invasion and producer through to Spearhead from Space (more from Sherwin here).

Fury from the Deep is yet another base-under-siege story; this time commander Robson is more manifestly stupid and obstinate than usual (and that is saying something!) and the means and motivation of the monster particularly poorly explained. Jamie and Victoria asking why they always land in England falls rather flat as the Doctor clearly has no answer. Likewise Victoria’s dissatisfaction with the Tardis lifestyle undermines the show’s premise without being really adequately addressed (though this comes right in the last episode, when she gets the best sendoff of any departing companion since the original three). But it is at least well done – great bubbling seaweed, good special effects visible in the surviving clips, decent music and another helicopter!

Pemberton more or less rewrote the story for the Fourth Doctor (Doctor Who and the Pescatons but it wasn’t much better.

Somewhat to my surprise, I have rather warmed to Victoria after watching her seven stories in order. She is actually rather smart, doing stuff in the Tardis lab in Fury from the Deep while Jamie asks the stupid questions; on the whole she gets into trouble because she has bravely ventured out looking for it; and if she has a bit of a tendency to scream in panic, the Second Doctor also tends to yell in alarm and generally get more ruffled than his other incarnations. But she doesn’t really develop much beyond the occasionally screaming arm candy – even Polly, who is less well educated, manages to work out how to tackle Cybermen and uses her feminine wiles for team advantage; so I can see why Deborah Watling left.

Her one return to the screen, in character, is the decidedly odd Downtime, Marc Platt’s sequel to the two Yeti stories (also including Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane and Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier) which is none the less recommended. Her first audio Companion Chronicle, The Great Glass Elevator, is rather better than her second, which was released last month. In dead tree format, I recommend The Dark Path by David McIntee, though admittedly more for the Master’s appearance than for Victoria; Terrance Dicks’ early novelisation of The Web of FearDowntime..

The final base-under-siege story of this season is The Wheel In Space. I quite liked this on first watching / listening, but in the overall context of Season Five it feels very predictable: we have the obligatory psychotic base commander refusing to deal with the alien menace and wrongly suspecting the Doctor and Jamie. And we have slightly remodelled Cybermen, doing what Cybermen always do. Apart from the predictable plot, the story does have a few things going for it, though. First is that the dynamic among the crew (commander aside) is the most convincing we have had, with two women in senior roles (though less good marks on race – two non-speaking black parts, and a Chinese character played by a Caucasian actor). Second is the introduction of Zoe, who has been trained to be like a Cyberman but wants to do more with her life – she gets more character development here than in the whole of the rest of her time on the show. The effects of the scenes in space are rather well done. And I suspect that the frst episode, with the Doctor and Jamie playing hide-and-seek with the robot on the Silver Carrier, was good watching, now sadly lost. I note also David Whitaker’s trademark obsession with mercury, though this time with added Bernalium, named after J.D., father of Martin.

And who can fail to appreciate the double entendre of Jamie and Zoe’s first conversation, right up there with the First Doctor’s “reacting vibrator”?

We had five stories in a row set on Earth here, the second longest continuous run of such stories in Old Who (exceeded only by the first six Pertwee stories; possibly tied, depnding how you count, by the combination of the last four Seventh Doctor stories and the TV movie). Also five out of six stories were bases-under-siege; funny how rapidly the show became formulaic. (In fairness the next season is much less so.)

We also had here the joint longest run of destroyed episodes – I had thought previously that the gap from The Tenth Planet #4 to The Underwater Menace #2 was the longest, but in fact the sequence from The Web of Fear #2 to The Wheel in Space #2 is also thirteen episodes. Not a single one of these six stories written up in this entry survives in full. I am very glad that there will be far fewer gaps in my next write-up, and none at all after that.

Somewhere in this run I have passed a significant milestone: I have now watched the first 25% of Old Who (including K9 and Company) in order, whether you count by episodes (697 in total, the 175th being The Abominable Snowmen #1) or stories (160, counting Shada and four stories rather than one in Season 23, so the 40th story is The Web of Fear). I haven’t worked out where the first quartile point is in screen minutes, but it is clearly somewhere in between as the relatively small number of episodes longer than 25 minutes are all concentrated towards the end. Anyhow, it is a nice point to mark. (If you flatten out the time period between 23 November 1963 and 6 December 1989, the first quartile point falls two years later, in late May 1970, because of the intense production schedule of the first six seasons.)

< 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 >