The Smugglers, The Highlanders, The Macra Terror and The Enemy of the World

I have now Run Out of classic Doctor Who to listen to as I commute to and from work. Luckily there are still plenty of Big Finish audios out there, and also I hope to do some shopping in London next week…

The Smugglers (, .com) was the last full story in which William Hartnell appeared as the Doctor. (He missed episode 3 of The Tenth Planet due to ill health.) It was the first story of Doctor Who’s fourth season, broadcast in 1966. The story picks up straight from the end of The War Machines, which closed the third season, with new companions Ben and Polly doing the gosh-it’s-bigger-on-the-inside-than-the-outside routine. “This is a vessel for travelling through Time and Space! Why did you follow me?” rages the Doctor, followed by some startling admissions: when Polly asks, “When are we going to land?” the Doctor admits, “I don’t know; and that’s the cause of half my troubles through my journeys. I never know… I have no control over where I land, neither can I choose the period which I land in.” And as Ben and Polly venture through the doors ahead of him, he mutters wistfully to himself, “…and I really thought I was going to be alone again…” It seems to me to be an interesting set of re-statements of what the character is all about, at the start of a new season of stories which would see the lead role change literally beyond all recognition.

We’re then in the second last of the great historical Doctor Who stories, and lots of fun yo-ho-hoing between piratical smugglers, crooked local gentry, the King’s revenue men, etc etc. Almost nobody is what they first seem to be and the plot kept my mind off the train journey to and from my first day in my new job. There were a couple more surprises for me though: first, the fairly nonchalant way in which both the Doctor and his companions resort to pretending to practice occult rituals in order to impress the natives, which you couldn’t imagine from later Doctors who would have been falling over themselves to debunk these primitive beliefs; second, and much more significantly, when Ben suggests buggering off in the TARDIS and leaving the locals to sort themselves out, the Doctor tells him and Polly, almost with embarrassment – “I know it’s really difficult for both you to understand, but I’m under moral obligation” – that they must stay to try and prevent the pirates from destroying the village. It’s a far cry from the rather amoral and even sinister figure of the first season, who was happy to bugger off from Skaro and leave the Thals to be slaughtered by the Daleks. It’s also an interesting contrast with the argument in The Aztecs that you can’t change history; this had seemed to be a rule that applied only to Earth rather than to other planets, but now it is weakened even for England.

The Highlanders (, .com) is another fourth season story from 1966/67, the last of the great Doctor Who historical stories, coming in sequence immediately after Patrick Troughton’s first story, Power of the Daleks. The Second Doctor is still establishing his identity, and spends quite a lot of this in disguise, as a German doctor (Doktor von Wer!) and in drag. Polly thinks he looks rather good as a woman. Indeed, Polly rather excels in this story, using her feminine wiles to manipulate the English lawyer Algernon ffinch; I can’t think of another example where she was allowed to be sexy as well as look sexy. Apart from that I have to say I found the plot a bit confused and stagnant, with the Doctor actually arming the rebels to kill their captors which is a bit un-Doctorish. As well as Ben and Polly, of course, the story introduced Jamie who was to stay with the Second Doctor until the bitter end.

The Macra Terror (, .com) is, again, from the fourth season, immediately following The Moonbase. It sounds absolutely glorious (even if fan lore has it that the evil crustaceans themselves looked rather crap), indeed I almost felt it would have fitted comfortably in to 1980s Who rather than 1960s Who. While the idea of aliens controlling an apparently happy and contented human society did eventually become a cliche, here it was all brand new – I think the only previous Who story to feature the concept was the second episode of The Keys of Marinus (though I haven’t checked, and if I’m wrong someone will point it out). The “happy campers” sound exhorting the colonists to enjoyment as well as slave labour is genuinely chilling; I’m not surprised to learn that writer Ian Stuart Black had input into The Prisoner, which started its broadcast run a few months later. And having praised Anneke Wills in the Highlanders, here I’ll put a good word in for Michael Craze as Ben, victim of brainwashing by the evil crustacean overlords, whose character transformations are entirely convincing.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Colin Baker’s narration. I don’t blame Baker (much) for this. For some reason the narration is entirely in the past tense, rather than in the present tense used by most Doctor Who audio releases; it also curiously fails to set the scene very well – take, for example, the very first lines: “The entrance to the colony was decidedly futuristic. A crowd of workers was watching a drum majorette performing to the accompaniment of a band. The whole place had the aura of a holiday camp. Everyone was smiling and enjoying the performance.” Not only does it not really convey anything very coherent, it also completely misses the real start of the story as seen by the 1967 viewers, of a man looking on in terror. I think this story would benefit well from re-dubbing with a new narrative script (and possibly a new narrator). This is probably also the moment to praise Anneke Wills for her narration of The Smugglers, and especially Fraser Hines for his of The Highlanders and The Enemy of the World.

The Enemy of the World (, .com), broadcast in 1967/68, was the only story of the famously monster-filled fifth season not to feature any, er, monsters. I recently read Ian Marter’s novelisation of the story, and watched the one surviving episode (of six – the other stories reviewed here were all four-parters) and was not hugely impressed. But the real thing is better; the plot develops into considerable intricacy, with the confusion of identities between the Doctor and Salamander reflected in the confusion as to which of the other characters are good guys and which are bad guys. I rather fault Marter for missing some of this, and also slashing a dramatic sequence in the Secret Underground Base in the novel. Troughton is great as the evil Salamander, though bizarrely somewhat less good as the Doctor, sending his companions into danger in Hungary while staying safely in Australia himself. The Australian chef is a lovely bit part. Though that same episode also features one of the worst Doctor Who exchanges ever: “Why is the prisoner being kept in the corridor?” “It’s easier to guard him here.” (Real answer: we forgot to budget for scenery for a cell.)

Now that I’ve listened to The Enemy of the World, Victoria is the first Old Who companion – apart from the special case of Sara Kingdom – whose entire arc I have followed since I started revisiting Doctor Who two years ago. (Her other stories were Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Ice Warriors, The Web of Fear, and Fury from the Deep.) I may try and pull together some deeper reflections on her character. But not tonight.

In conclusion: All of these are fun, none of them is outstanding, none of them is embarrassing either (apart from my reservations about the narration for The Macra Terror).

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