Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Four – The Traitors

Katarina’s death is a bit of a shocker.  The last few episodes have suggested that she’s now firmly a regular, so her sudden demise (sucked out of the airlock with Kirksen) certainly helps to reinforce the impression that the stakes in this story are higher than usual (as we’ll see, other allies will also perish before we reach episode twelve).

But the nature of this type of adventure serial means that it’s impossible to dwell on her fate for too long.  Steven sounds upset and the Doctor delivers a nice little tribute (“She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. She wanted to save our lives and perhaps the lives of all the other beings of the Solar System. I hope she’s found her Perfection. Oh, how I shall always remember her as one of the Daughters of the Gods. Yes, as one of the Daughters of the Gods”) but once that’s done they press on and she’s only mentioned again at the end of the final episode as Steven counts the human cost of their victory.

Although the story seems set to be a re-run of The Chase (the Dalek pursuit ship wasn’t able to intercept the Doctor on Desperus, so you assume it’ll carry on following them) at present it takes a different tack.  The Black Dalek orders the pursuit ship to be destroyed as he doesn’t tolerate failure (another sign that the Daleks are back to their ruthless, single-minded best) and then contacts Chen – telling him that he’ll be the one to regain the core and exterminate the Doctor and his friends.  This is another sign that the Daleks are thinking – it would have been impossible for them to travel to Earth and not attract attention, so using their human agents is the logical course of action.

Every good megalomaniac needs a confidant and Chen has Karlton (Maurice Browning).  Browning is wonderfully smooth and his performance gives us the impression that Karlton is well aware of his worth.  It’s a pity that he doesn’t stick around longer as he would have served as a good sounding board for Chen’s various plots and dreams.

The Traitors has an increasing vice-like feel, as the Doctor, Steven and Bret (now back on Earth) find it difficult to know who they can trust.  Bret contacts Daxtar (Roger Avon) but he’s part of the conspiracy and Bret shoots him dead.  The Doctor is appalled by this, but as he was powerless to intercede it’s another sign that the Doctor isn’t in control – at present he’s being buffeted along by events whilst others (both enemies and allies) hold the upper hand.

This episode introduces us to Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh).  Chen initially refers to her by her surname and sums up her character.  “Ruthless, hard, efficient. And does exactly as ordered.”  This scene is another mis-direct, as no doubt the audience is supposed to be surprised when this top agent is revealed not to be a man but a woman.  Sara, like the troopers later seen in Blakes 7, is a product of her training.  Once she has her orders then she’ll carry them out without question.  It’s not difficult to imagine that Terry Nation was again drawing on his memories of WW2 when crafting this character.

If Katarina’s death at the start of this episode was a jolt, then so is Bret’s demise at the end.  He’s shot dead by Sara which spells trouble for the Doctor and Steven as she’ll now be gunning for them …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Three – Devil’s Planet

After being little more than comic relief during The Chase, it’s good to see the Daleks regaining their ruthless streak – highlighted when they question the hapless Zephon.

Zephon’s arrogance won’t permit him to admit he was in any way culpable for the Doctor’s theft of the taranium core (although you do have to agree with him that the Daleks’ security was rather lax).  When the Black Dalek tells him it’s been agreed that he’s guilty of negligence, it’s not clear who’s agreed this.  The Black Dalek by himself maybe?  This would seem to be the most likely option and if so it’s a clear demonstration to the other delegates that the Daleks can and will operate unilaterally.

Dalek technology is shown to be rather advanced, as they’re able to remote land Chen’s craft (carrying the Doctor, Steven, Katarina and Bret) onto the prison planet Desperus.  They then launch a pursuit craft to intercept them and regain the core – although you have to wonder why they didn’t launch the pursuit ship earlier (that way it could have maintained a watching brief a safe distance behind).

It may not surprise you to know that Desperus is an inhospitable prison planet.  There’s no guards and the prisoners are left to fend for themselves (echos of Cygnus Alpha from Blakes 7).  Alas we never find out if Desperus was named after it became a prison planet or if it always had that name and someone decided it sounded just the gloomy sort of place to establish a penal colony!

It’s another jungle planet, no doubt reusing the Kembel sets.  We’re quickly introduced to three very hairy convicts, Bors (Dallas Cavell), Garge (Geoffrey Cheshire) and Kirksen (Douglas Sheldon).  The pecking order is established during their first scene – Bors is leader, Garge wants to be the leader but Bors (at present) is too strong which leaves Kirksen as the third wheel.

Terry Nation seems to be deliberately wrong-footing us, since everything suggests that Bors will be the main threat.  But after the Doctor is able to repair the ship and they take off again, it’s Kirksen who sneaks aboard and grabs Katarina …..

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part Two – Day of Armageddon

Moving pictures!  It’s nice to be able to watch Day of Armageddon for several reasons, not least because it gives us an opportunity to see Nicholas Courtney (Bret Vyon) and Adrienne Hill (Katarina) in action.

We open with the Doctor skulking around the jungle.  At one point he’s on his hands and knees, which is a tad unusual (and undignified) for this Doctor.  A little later he meets up with Steven, Katarina and Bret and is forced to admit that Bret is a decent sort after all.

The Doctor, naturally enough, takes control of the situation (or at least attempts to).  But both Steven and Bret also have their points of view and it’s fair to say that the exchanges between the three of them are frank.  Bret doesn’t hold back when attempting to bring the Doctor into line. “Sir! Will you shut up!” It’s a lovely scene which helps to strengthen Steven’s character (he’s had previous experience of the Daleks and so isn’t prepared to blindly follow the Doctor’s lead) as well as Bret’s.

Rather oddly, the Doctor tells Bret that the Daleks can be defeated if they look at their history books. “You must tell Earth to look back in the history of the year 2157, and that the Daleks are going to attack again. History will show how to deal with them.” Eh? Unless the Daleks plan to steal the Earth’s Core for a second time I’m not sure how that’s going to work.

Another plus point about having this episode back in the archives is that it’s a good showcase for Mavic Chen.  Douglas Camfield obviously knew a good actor when he saw one, as he later cast Kevin Stoney as the not totally dissimilar Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion.

Indeed, there’s not a lot to choose between the two characters – both ally themselves with one of the Doctor’s bitterest enemies and both fail to spot all the warning signs that they’re becoming surplus to requirements.  Also, both Chen and Vaughn have a mocking, sardonic sense of humour which marks them out from your run-of-the-mill villains.  Chen wears a lot more make-up than Vaughn though ….

We get a good insight into Chen’s character during his discussion with one of the delegates, Zephon (Julian Sherrier).  We’ve already seen the Daleks vow to dispose of all their allies as soon as their usefulness is at an end, but both Chen and Zephon obviously don’t believe this could happen to them.

When Chen suggests they join the meeting, Zephon retorts that “they will not start the meeting without me.” Chen’s insincere bowing and his amused attitude gives the very strong impression that he considers Zephon to be nothing more than a pawn in the game (Chen clearly views himself as something very different).  Let’s check back in about ten episodes time to see how that works out for him.

The Doctor suggests that Bret steals Chen’s ship – with it, they could make their way back to Earth and warn the authorities. But first the Doctor elects to take Zephon’s place in the meeting (luckily, Zephon wears a big cloak, so after knocking him out it’s a simple disguise).  All the delegates gather, but annoyingly we’re not told most of their names (which has been the cue for more than fifty years of debate!) Only one of them (apart from Chen) has a speaking role, Trantis (Roy Evans). It doesn’t seem right for Roy Evans not to be playing in a miner if he’s in Doctor Who ….

When the delegates arrive, each walks into the conference room in a very strange way – let’s be kind and say none of them were used to that level of gravity.  As they don’t speak, they have to show their approval by banging on the table – each has a different way of banging, which is rather sweet.  Chen has to be different of course, when the others are thumping the table he elects to clap his hands.  Another sign that he sets himself apart from the others.

Chen proudly displays the core of the Time Destructor.  It’s taken fifty years to mine enough taranium to make it work, so it’s precious beyond belief.  When Zephon manages to escape and sound the alarm it’s a little surprising that neither the Daleks or the delegates bother to pick the Time Destructor up.  Instead, all the delegates run around like headless chickens whilst the crafty old Doctor grabs it and makes his escape.  This is another clumsy piece of plotting – the Daleks’ scheme depends on a device which the Doctor has very fortunately managed to acquire.

As the episode draws to a close, Bret is keen to take off.  The Doctor hasn’t turned up, so Bret tells Steven and Katarina he’ll have to go without him.  Will the Doctor make it in time?  Hmm, I wonder.

Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan. Part One – The Nightmare Begins

The Daleks’ Master Plan has often been described as a sprawling epic, which is a reasonable enough summation.  But in truth it’s not really one story – rather it’s several different ones bolted together.

The early episodes have a nice downbeat feel (at times it feels like Nation was writing Blakes 7 a decade early).  It then turns (god forbid) into The Chase II, although we can take comfort from the fact that Douglas Camfield is directing rather than Richard Martin.  But after the mid-story comedy high-jinks the tone once again turns dark – not least in the final few moments of part twelve.

Rewiding back to The Nightmare Begins, one moment which impresses me is the scene between Roald (Philip Anthony) and Lizan (Pamela Greer).  Their job is to monitor Kembel for news of Bret Vyon (Nicholas Courtney) and Kert Gantrey (Brian Cant), who are investigating Marc Cory’s disappearance  (viewers with fairly long memories will remember that he met rather a sticky fate).

What I especially like about this moment is the way Nation uses the pair to pass judgement on Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), the Guardian of the Solar System.  Some twenty years later we’d see Arak and Etta in Vengeance on Varos perform a similar function as they debated the merits of the Governor.  This aspect of Philip Martin’s script was applauded as rather post-modern and picked up some praise.  Alas, Terry Nation did pretty much the same thing twenty years earlier and it seemed to have gone unnoticed.  Possibly this was because it’s in an episode that’s missing, or maybe it’s just that you don’t expect post-modernism in a Terry Nation script …

Like the pair on Varos, Roald and Lizan have sharply opposing views about the man in charge – Lizan likes him, Roald doesn’t.  It’s slightly disturbing that they both decide to watch television rather than keep an eye out for Bret’s distress signal, but this seems to be another satirical Nation touch.  It also helps to make them more rounded as characters – in plot terms they’re not terribly important, but their interaction with each other lets the viewer quickly know what the man and woman on the street thinks about the Guardian of the Solar System.

Bret and Kert are in rather dire straights on Kembel.  Kert (an impressively bearded Cant) doesn’t last long as he loses his nerve, rushes off into the jungle and is exterminated by a Dalek (for once a Dalek appears well before the end of part one cliffhanger).  This sequence was shot on film and it’s one of a number of film clips to have been preserved.  It’s only short, but it shows how adept Camfield was at ramping up the tension.

Up until this point in the series’ history, most stories have been written from the Doctor’s viewpoint.  So part one would open with the TARDIS landing somewhere, the Doctor and his friends then leave the ship, explore and are drawn into the story.  The Nightmare Begins takes a different tack (one which be used time and again in the future).

The world-building begins before the Doctor becomes involved in the plot properly – we see Bret and Kert on Kembel, are introduced to Chen, etc.  One side-effect of this form of storytelling is that it inevitably diminishes the central role that up until now the Doctor has tended to enjoy.  When a story’s ticking over so nicely with the guest characters, if the writer isn’t careful then the Doctor can be rather sidelined (see Eric Saward’s scripts for some good examples of this).

Steven, still suffering from the injuries sustained at the end of the last story, needs urgent medical help.  Rather surprisingly, the Doctor has nothing aboard the TARDIS which will do the trick so he’s forced to seek help elsewhere.  And so he lands on Kembel.

Quite why he’d think that the dense jungle planet of Kembel would be the place to visit is a bit of a mystery (one look and most people would have tried somewhere else!)  In plot terms, Steven’s injuries are nothing more than an excuse to get the Doctor on Kembel at the same time as the Daleks and Mavic Chen.

This is an undeniably crude piece of plotting – the Doctor spots some Daleks, decides to follow them and overhears Mavic Chen and the Daleks eagerly planning to take over the Earth and the rest of the Solar System.  With twelve episodes to play with it would have been nice to integrate the Doctor into the plot a little more subtly.

The Nightmare Begins sees the Doctor Who debut of Nicholas Courtney, or at least it would if we could actually see him.  We can hear him though and despite the fact that Bret’s painted rather broadly here as a single-minded man of action, Courtney still manages to make him seem fairly likeable.

Random Who – The Web of Fear

Recently I’ve been using the random number generator at random.org to select a number of Doctor Who stories to revisit. The latest choice of the randomiser was The Web of Fear ….

You have to say that the story is gossamer thin. Apart from puzzling over the Great Intelligence’s somewhat over complicated scheme to snare the Doctor, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have nabbed him at some point during the first few episodes (although this would have made for a very short tale). But since there’s six episodes to fill, a great deal of running on the spot has to be done.

Mind you, since Douglas Camfield is directing, this running on the spot is never less than very entertaining. For example, the Covent Garden battle in episode four adds absolutely nothing to the story, but it’s a wonderfully directed and edited sequence (for once, the Yeti – usually at their best lurking in the shadows – don’t look too bad in broad daylight either).

The guest cast are top notch. Well, there is one slightly annoying performance – can you guess who it is, boyo? Jack Watling gives a nice line in blustering comic relief, but otherwise Travers Snr doesn’t do a great deal. Indeed, things probably would have worked as well with just Travers Jnr (Tina Packer), who operates rather like a proto Liz. Anne does fade a little as the story progresses, regressing from an independent and practical young woman into more of a damsel in distress, but then some of the male characters do the same thing ….

One thing, I’ve never quite worked out is why (and when) she decides to change out of her miniskirt and into a trouser suit. With everyone facing multiple Yeti attacks, it seems an odd time to change your clothing.

The early episodes feature a selection of soldiers – such as Corporal Blake (Richardson Morgan), Corporal Lane (Rod Beacham) and Craftsman Weams (Stephen Whittaker) – who all bite the dust. But before each one is killed they’ve been invested with enough character to ensure their deaths mean something (they all seem a good deal more real than many of the faceless UNIT soldiers later mown down in the course of duty).

Jack Woolgar’s performance as the level-headed Staff Sgt. Arnold is an especially memorable one, which means his death comes as a particularly hard blow (although this part of the story makes little sense). We’re told that Arnold has been dead for some time and the Intelligence had reanimated his lifeless corpse (which is a horrifying concept). But since Arnold behaved so naturally throughout, it’s difficult to believe the Intelligence could have given quite so nuanced a performance (possibly Haisman and Lincoln, running out of time, simply closed their eyes and picked a traitor at random).

Elsewhere, Jon Rollason is suitably slimy as the David Frost-a-like Harold Chorley, whilst Ralph Watson impresses as the doomed Captain Knight. Poor Knight – treated with playful disdain by Anne and later clubbed down by a Yeti, he didn’t have much luck.

This six-parter, of course, also saw the debut of Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart. The character arrived pretty much fully formed, although he does have a fairly untrustworthy air at times (but only because the story had to keep suggesting that he might be the traitor).

There’s a fascinating scene where Lethbridge-Stewart issues Evans (Derek Pollitt) with a direct order, which Evans fails to obey. It’s impossible to imagine the Brig ever taking that sort of lip from one of his soldiers, but then Lethbridge-Stewart never had to face this type of scenario again – a mission where virtually all the men under his command are killed, leaving him as one of the few survivors (and a slightly hysterical one at that).

The Troughton era raised the Base Under Siege story concept to a high art form (which is fair enough as they had plenty of practice at it). Few stories have quite the same claustrophobic feel as The Web of Fear though – as the web slowly increases and people keep dying, there really does seem to be no way out.

After a number of episodes where the plot only advances a few inches, we reach episode six. The conclusion … isn’t great (which docks the story a point or two). Overall, The Web of Fear is a triumph of style over content – but what style. It’s one where you have to ignore the niggles and go with the flow.

Doctor Who Magazine Flashback – Issue 193

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Recently I’ve been digging through my piles of DWW and DWM. 40+ years of collecting the magazine means that a chronological re-read would be a little impractical (although it would make a good blog project for someone). Instead I’ve decided to use the randomizer (a useful device, even if it lacks true discrimination) to select some issues for me to peruse. First landing spot is issue 193 (November 1992) with Gary Russell in the editors seat.

Top news in the Gallifrey Guardian was the fact that Who would be running six days a week on UK Gold. Hurrah! Difficult to imagine now, but in those far off days access to the series was pretty limited unless you had access to the pirate video network. And even if you did, you may very well have been struggling to make out blobs in a snowstorm (some of those nth generation dubs were very hard on the eyes).

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Marcus Hearn interviewed Roy Castle about his career and specifically his role as big-screen Ian. Castle always came across as a lovely chap and this interview does nothing to dispel this view. He had fond memories of Peter Cushing (another person you never hear a bad word about).

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Controversy Corner tackled the thorny topic of canon. Shudder. That’s a kettle of worms you never really want to open.

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The Android Invasion received a typically thorough archive feature from Andrew Pixley whilst the comic strip featured part one of Pureblood. Slightly squidgy looking Sontarans were the baddies whilst there were a fair few swearwords (well, “cruck”) thrown about – possibly in homage to the New Adventures. After all, this was still at the point when the various spin offs (comics, books) were attempting to live in harmony – hence Benny accompanying the Doctor on his travels.

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There’s an interesting interview with Brian Hodgson which covers all the bases you’d expect (such as how a piano and a key were integral to creating the TARDIS sound).

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The postbag was still mildly fuming at Gary Russell’s review of Earthshock in DWM 191. Although if you really want to read a thorough demolition of the story then you’d be advised to check out Martin Wiggins’ piece in the relevant issue of In Vision.

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And that’s about that for this issue, apart from a back-page plug for issue one of Classic Comics. Which are also probably worth digging out for a re-read ….

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Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Four – Horse of Destruction

The massacre begins and the humour disappears. Probably one of the reasons why this feels especially jarring is the way the audience has been invited to feel comfortable in the presence of both Priam and Paris.

If the Greeks (Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles) have been depicted as single-minded warriors, then the Trojans were allowed a little more personality.  This makes their brutal demise all the more shocking.

Donald Cotton later concludes The Gunfighters in a similar orgy of violence, but since the Clantons were positioned throughout that story as “bad” and the likes of Earp, Holliday and Masterton were depicted as “good” it doesn’t have nearly the same impact.

There are some who view the sudden gear-change in Horse of Destruction from comedy to tragedy as a weakness, but to me it’s a clear strength – The Myth Makers shows us that there’s not always a “good” or “bad” side.

Similar themes had been explored in previous historicals, for example The Crusade.  David Whitaker’s script may have been much more straight-laced, but it had a similar sense of ambiguity about which side the viewer should support.

The use of comedy by Donald Cotton throughout this story is revealed in Horse of Destruction to be a dramatic device, designed to lure us into a false sense of security.  It’s a common trick, but not common in Doctor Who, which makes it noteworthy.

Another interesting aspect about the ending of The Myth Makers is just how downbeat it is.  This began a trend (although you could also say that it really started in Galaxy 4, with the Doctor leaving the Drahvins to their fate) which then continued in both The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre.

Normally Doctor Who stories end on an optimistic note – although there’s often been a tremendous loss of life, it’s accepted that the ends justify the means.  Tyranny has been overthrown and the survivors can begin the task of rebuilding their world.

The Myth Makers offers no such comfort as destruction still rages. Steven is injured and Vicki elects to stay in this uncertain world with Trolius, the man she loves.  Possibly the relationship between Vicki and Trolius is the one positive thing we can take from the story (if they can somehow survive).

Vicki, like Susan before her and many companions to come, is shown to have completed a journey by the time she leaves the TARDIS.

When the girl joined the TARDIS crew in The Rescue, her awkwardness with people and her single-minded devotion to the Doctor meant that she spends the next few stories (The RomansThe Web PlanetThe Crusade) virtually glued to his side.

The Space Museum was key in the way that it showed a much more independent Vicki, happy to organise a planet-wide revolution!  After that she seemed much more comfortable by herself or outside of the Doctor’s orbit – which meant that, like Susan before her, she’s now made the transition from child to adult.

The Doctor and Vicki only share a single scene (apart from a few lines in episode one, it’s the only time they talk).  It’s noteworthy that it stops just at the point when Vicki’s preparing to tell the Doctor that she wishes to stay.

Given how both The Dalek Invasion of Earth and some later companion departures would milk the moment of leaving, it’s an odd choice which does leave the audience feeling slightly short-changed.

Whatever Vicki said, it must have been a powerful argument since the Doctor is happy for her to head off alone into the city to try and find Troilus.  This seems uncharacteristic in the extreme, but if writing out Maureen O’Brien was an eleventh hour decision then the options were limited.

An ailing Steven is back in the TARDIS, being tended by Cassandra’s handmaiden Katarina (Adrienne Hill).  The savvy viewer will know by now that as one door closes, another opens – so Katarina must be Vicki’s replacement …..

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Three – Death of a Spy

When Steven is brought into Vicki’s presence it spells trouble for both of them.  How can Vicki know Steven (alias Diomede) if he’s a Greek warrior?  Cassandra’s convinced that she’s a spy and orders her immediate execution, but the order is countermanded by Paris.  “I will not tolerate interference from a fortune-teller of notorious unreliability.”

Barrie Ingham continues to be the recipient of some first-class lines – Paris then tells his sister to “get back to your temple before you give us all galloping religious mania.”

Priam’s in a quandary.  He likes Vicki, but can’t ignore the fact that she could, as Cassandra says, be a spy.  So he gives her an ultimatum.  “Now if you are what you really say you are, as a pledge of good faith to us, you must either give me information that will lead to our speedy victory, or use your supernatural powers to turn the tide of battle in our favour.”

For all the humour we’ve seen (or rather heard) so far, this is the point in the story where the approaching darkness begins to take hold.  Steven and Vicki are prisoners in the city – locked in the dungeons – with Vicki only given a day to produce a miracle which will bring an end to the ten-year war.  Meanwhile the Doctor, outside the city walls with the Greeks, has been forced to provide a similar solution for them.

Whilst Vicki still has an air of unflappability, Steven can see how perilous their current situation is.  He’s been a member of the TARDIS crew long enough to know that if the Doctor comes up with a successful plan it’ll mean the death of everybody inside the city.

Hartnell’s more centre-stage in this episode, as the Doctor outlines several schemes to Agamemnon.  The first – gliders launched with catapults – is completely ridiculous, but Agamemnon appears to consider it.  He takes the wind out of the Doctor’s sails when he tells him that he (the Doctor) will be the first test pilot!  This is another moment where it’s a pity that Hartnell’s reaction is lost to us.

In desperation the Doctor turns to the wooden horse.  Earlier he’d declared that the horse was a myth (another inspiration for the story title?) invented by Homer, but with time running out he casually mentions to Agamemnon that a hollow wooden horse filled with Greek soldiers should do the trick.

Agamemnon agrees and very quickly it’s built.  Indeed, considering it’s size, it does seem remarkable that it was constructed in a matter of hours.  The Greeks were clearly fast builders.

Apart from the war preparations, another key part of this episode is the relationship between Trolius and Vicki.  As Trolius, James Lynn had a fairly thankless role.  Most of the guest cast were gifted sparkling bon mots, but Trolius was written as young, earnest and a little dull.  However it’s made clear right from the start that he and Vicki are kindred spirits.

VICKI: Well, you’re not in the war, are you? You’re far too young.
TROILUS: I’m seventeen next birthday!
VICKI: That’s hardly any older than me. You shouldn’t be killing people at your age.
TROILUS: Well, between you and me, I don’t honestly enjoy killing at all. But I love adventure.
VICKI: Yes. I know what you mean.

Since all the Greek soldiers appear to have left the plains, Priam is delighted and orders Vicki’s release.  She’s nonplussed, but when Paris pops up to tell them that he’s found the Great Horse of Asia outside, all becomes clear.  Cassandra’s still (correctly) forecasting their doom, which gives Paris my favourite line in the story (the final one below).

CASSANDRA: Yes, ask her! Go on, ask her! She knows what it is. It’s our doom! It’s the death of Troy, brought upon us by that cursed witch!
PARIS: Now understand me, Cassandra. I will not have one word said against that horse.
TROILUS: And neither will I against Cressida.
CASSANDRA: Will you not? Then woe to the House of Priam. Woe to the Trojans.
PARIS: I’m afraid you’re a bit late to say ‘whoa’ to the horse. I’ve just given instructions to have it brought into the city.

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part Two – Small Prophet, Quick Return

The Myth Makers is far removed from the sober, earnest historical stories of season one such as John Lucarotti’s Marco Polo and The Aztecs.  There, historical accuracy was key – with the Doctor content to be merely an observer.  Here, the characters often speak in modern (i.e. 1960’s) idioms with the Doctor merrily changing the course of history as he bumbles along.

But one of the strengths of the third season is that there was room for both The Myth Makers and The Massacre (Lucorotti’s final script for the series) which was bleak in the extreme.  This variety is a strong reason why John Wiles’ time as producer has come to be celebrated by a certain section of Doctor Who fandom.

Conversely, the next producer, Innes Lloyd, has seen his stock fall over the years.  The argument runs that if Wiles favoured innovation then Lloyd (with a reliance on “base under siege” stories and monsters) constricted Doctor Who’s format and curtailed its creativity.  It’s a reasonable point, but it’s also worth wondering exactly what the target audience at this time – mainly made up of children – would have made of The Myth Makers.

It’s packed full of witty wordplay, but most of that would presumably have sailed over their heads.  Any adults watching, or fans in the decades to come, will no doubt derive considerable pleasure from Donald Cotton’s scripts, but it’s easy to imagine that the kids at the time were sighing and waiting for the Daleks to turn up.

So although Lloyd might have tightly formatted the series, he did so because of concerns that the ratings were slipping (it’s all very well being innovative and experimental, but if nobody’s watching then you’ve got a bit of a problem).

Having met the Greeks in episode one, we now run into some of the main Trojans.  Barrie Ingham, as Paris, is a delight – Paris is depicted as a handsome and feckless warrior who’s keen to avoid bloodshed at almost any costs.

Sent out by his father, King Priam (Max Adrian) to avenge the death of his brother Hector, he has to report back that he was unable to challenge Achilles (“I sought Achilles, father, even to the Grecian lines, but he skulked within his tent. He feared to face me”).  At face value this dialogue seems straightforward enough, but it’s played in such a way as to suggest that Paris didn’t try very hard at all.

Priam is less than sympathetic. “Well go back and wait until he gets his courage up. Upon my soul, what sort of brother are you? Furthermore, what sort of son?” But Paris hasn’t come back empty-handed, he proudly reveals his prize – the TARDIS – to a less than impressed Priam.

His sister Cassandra (Frances White) is equally unimpressed – and then prophecies that this strange object will spell their disaster.  It’s an unspoken irony that although nobody ever pays attention to Cassandra’s numerous warnings of doom, she proves to be completely right!

Vicki emerges from the TARDIS to enchant Priam. Maureen O’Brien would be the first companion to find herself written out of the series at short notice – something which would happen several more times over the next few years as incoming producers decided to be the broom that swept clean.

This was a pity, as O’Brien (even if she had little to work with on many occassions) always gave Vicki a questing, mischievous air. And since it can’t really be claimed that her short-term replacements (Katarina, Dodo) were any sort of improvement, I’ll certainly miss her.

When Priam renames her Cressida and she catches the eye of his younger son, Troilus, a section of the audience would probably have been able to guess what was going to happen. But would the child viewers have (excuse the pun) cottoned on, or is this another example of a literary joke that was only accessible to a minority of the audience?

Steven, learning that Vicki is somewhere within the Trojan city, elects to be captured as a Greek prisoner so that he can find her. He does so via a witty scene with Paris.

Paris is stalking the plains, urging Achilles to face him in single combat, but the sense that he isn’t terribly keen for a confrontation is made obvious after he decides to only quietly shout out Achilles’ name! A lovely moment, as is the banter between Paris and Steven.

PARIS: Achilles! (quietly) Achilles! Come out and fight, you jackal! Paris, prince of Troy, brother of Hector, seeks revenge. Do you not dare to face me?
STEVEN: I dare to face you, Paris. Turn and draw your sword.
PARIS: Ah. No, you’re not Achilles. Are you?
STEVEN: I am Diomede, friend of Odysseus.
PARIS: Oh, Diomede, I do not want your blood. It’s Achilles I seek.
STEVEN: And must my Lord Achilles be roused to undertake your death, adulterer?
PARIS: Yes, well, I’m prepared to overlook that for the moment. I assure you I have no quarrel with you.
STEVEN: I’m Greek, you’re Trojan. Is not that quarrel enough?
PARIS: Yes, well personally, I think this whole business has been carried just a little bit too far. I mean, that Helen thing was just a misunderstanding.

Barrie Ingham’s performance punctures the heroic myth of his character and helps to further push the story into being a very ironic retelling of familiar stories.

What of the Doctor though?  He’s about, although he does very little in this episode.  This will be a continuing trend during season three, as Hartnell tends to be moved more to the sidelines.  Was this because of concerns about his increasing ill health?  Possibly, although there are some who maintain that Wiles (and later Lloyd) were planning to gently ease him out of the series – and downplaying his role was the first step.

Doctor Who – The Myth Makers. Part One – Temple of Secrets

John Wiles’ stint as producer was fairly brief and, by all accounts, rather unhappy. His thorny relationship with William Hartnell was a major issue and he was also frustrated that he inherited several scripts (especially The Daleks’ Master Plan) which he would never have commissioned.

The Myth Makers would have been another script commissioned by the previous production team, but it does seem to fit the Wiles mould – since it’s doing something a little different.  We’ve had comedy historicals before – most notably The Romans – but The Myth Makers cranks up the comedy to a higher level.  And then, after three weeks of hi-jinks, everything turns very dark ….

Sadly, John Wiles doesn’t seem to have placed any value in John Cura’s telesnaps as none were taken for the episodes he produced. This is a particular problem for stories like the The Myth Makers as we only have a handful of publicity photographs available to try and conjure up the visual aspects of the serial.

The Loose Cannon recon – complete with numerous photo montages – is a noble effort, but since Donald Cotton’s script is so dialogue heavy (as opposed to say, Galaxy 4, which had long sections of silence punctuated by the beeping of the Chumblies) I don’t find any real hardship in just listening to the audio for this one.

In order to enjoy The Myth Makers you have to accept one basic premise – the Doctor has turned into a buffoon. For anyone who has issues with the more comedic Doctor of the late seventies this may be an issue, but if you can go with the flow then you’ll be able to enjoy one of Hartnell’s best comedy performances.

The Doctor’s startling lack of judgement is shown right from the start, after he observes two warriors fighting an intense battle. He decides to blithely pop his head out of the TARDIS and ask them the way!  When Steven wonders why they’re fighting, the Doctor tells him that he hasn’t “the remotest idea, my boy. No doubt their reasons will be entirely adequate. Yes, I think perhaps I’d better go and ask them where we are.”

The distracting arrival of the TARDIS enables Achilles (Cavan Kendall) to strike down his opponent, Hector (Alan Haywood). Achilles treats the materialisation of the TARDIS as a divine intervention, so it’s plain to him that the Doctor must be Zeus, father of the gods.The

In a script packed with sparkling lines, I love this one from Achilles as he explains his thoughts to the Doctor.  “To Europa, you appeared as a bull. To Leda, as a swan. To me, in the guise of an old beggar.”  It’s just a shame that we have to imagine Hartnell’s offended reaction!

The comedy continues when Odysseus (Ivor Salter) turns up. He treats Achilles with a mocking contempt, demonstrated best after he finds it impossible to believe that Achilles could have defeated Hector in a fair fight.

ODYSSEUS: But what a year is this for plague. Even the strongest might fall! Prince Hector, that he should come to this. You met him here, you say, as he lay dying?
ACHILLES: I met him, Odysseus, in single combat.
DOCTOR: Oh yes, it’s true!
ODYSSEUS: And raced him round the walls till down he fell exhausted. A famous victory!

With the Doctor now in the tender care of Odysseus, who’s not yet sure if he’s a god or a spy, we next meet Menelaus (Jack Melford) and Agamemmon (Francis De Wolff). Menelaus is the reason for this whole expedition, since it was his wife, Helen, who was abducted ten years ago.

Menelaus doesn’t seem terribly bothered about the whole thing though. “It wasn’t the first time she’s allowed herself to be abducted. I can’t keep on going off to the ends of the Earth to get her back. It makes me a laughing stock.”

The wonderful dialogue continues throughout the rest of the episode and Francis De Wolff (who had previously played the much less impressive role of Vasor in The Keys of Marinus) seems, like Ivor Salter, to be having a ball.

Steven heads out in search of the Doctor and finds himself in trouble, whilst the Doctor learns that his temple (i.e. the TARDIS) has, in true cliffhanger fashion, disappeared …..

Doctor Who – The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker

It was good fun being a Doctor Who fan in the 1990’s. Maybe this was because there were no new television stories to be ripped to shreds (apart from the quickly forgotten American TV movie). So DW fandom stopped complaining about the present and began to really dig into the past. 

A hefty and lavishly illustrated hardback (The Early Years by Jeremy Betham, 1986)  had already stoked my interest in the series’ first faltering steps, but it was this modestly priced, modestly sized paperback published in 1994 which really took my breath away.

To be a DW fan back then meant that studying the sacred texts (The Making of Doctor Who and DWM especially) was a solemn duty. Slowly the nascent fan would begin to drink in all the lore and history – which stories were classics, which were turkeys, how jabolite was used, the companion who lost their knickers the most, etc, etc.

One of the most important lessons concerned the first few months of the show. We all knew that things looked dicey in the early weeks until the Daleks arrived in the second story – after that, the long term future of the show was assured.

Um, not quite.

The heart of The First Doctor Handbook was the Production Diary. This laid bare just how hand-to-mouth those early years were and how often the series teetered on the edge of cancellation. I seem to recall some info had already appeared in The Frame, but most of it was new to me.

Frankly, it’s an astonishing and eye-opening read (one day, when all the files are available, I’d love to see the production history of the first 26 years of the series tackled in a single volume, or indeed a number of volumes).

The Production Diary might account for a large chunk of the book, but the interview material (both from and about Hartnell) is also of interest. More information about Hartnell has become available since, but this deftly edited selection of quotes still stands up well.

The Handbook also includes an obligatory episode guide which is somewhat of its time (The Gunfighters receives a firm thumbs down for example).

I have far too many DW books (including a fair few I’ve rarely touched in decades) but The First Doctor Handbook is one I do find myself coming back to every so often. For anyone interested in the painful birth of the series it’s a must read. 

Doctor Who – Mission to the Unknown

Mission to the Unknown is a bit of an oddity.  After Verity Lambert decided that Planet of Giants was a tad dull and could do with losing an episode, the production team were told they had to add this “spare” episode onto another story.

Considering that the BBC has always been rather cash conscious, this has always struck me as a strange move.  Four episodes were budgeted and paid for on Planet of Giants, even if only three made it onto the screen, so effectively Lambert and co were given a “free” episode.  Surely the scheduling bods could have slipped a few Tom and Jerry cartoons on one week and no-one would have been that bothered?

Anyway, it seems that the original idea was to bolt an extra episode onto a Terry Nation Dalek script.  If that means The Chase then I think we dodged a bullet there.  I was already losing the will to live with six episodes, so seven might just have pushed me over the edge.

Or maybe they were referring to The Dalek Invasion of Earth which was the final story in the first production block (it begin in late November 1964).

And for no other reason than the fact that I love original Doctor Who paperwork, here’s Donald Wilson’s memo from 1964 to prove that I’m not talking complete nonsense.

So if the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mission to the Unknown were a little unusual, it’s also strange that it’s not sitting directly before The Daleks’ Master Plan.  It works as a prologue for that story very well, but the fact you have four weeks of The Myth Makers between the two would have presumably puzzled many of those watching at home.

I’ve a strong suspicion that Terry Nation leapt at the chance to write a Dalek script which didn’t include the Doctor.  He was already working on his proposal for a big-budget American series featuring the Daleks (but not that strange old man in the police box) so it’s easy to see Mission to the Unknown (and large parts of The Daleks’ Master Plan) as a dry run for this.

The American series would have featured plucky members of the space corps (similar to Marc Cory, Sara Kingdom and Bret Vyon) facing off against the Daleks week after week.The television series came to nothing, but the seventies Dalek annuals give you a flavour of what it might have been like.

Anyway, back to today’s episode. We open in a jungle on Kembel, which has plenty of lush, aggressive vegetation.  You’d better get used to it as there’s going to be lots of jungle action once we hit The Daleks’ Master Plan proper.  We see someone who we later learn is Jeff Garvey (Barry Jackson).  His first words (“I must kill… must kill… must kill”) have a slightly ominous ring about them. He doesn’t seem at all well.

Elsewhere, space captain Gordon Lowery (Jeremy Young) is complaining to space agent Marc Cory (Edward de Souza) about this inhospitable planet.  It’s clear that Cory’s the man in charge though, which is confirmed when he shoots Garvey dead.  Lowery’s a tad upset about this, but Cory explains that Garvey had been infected by a Varga plant and it was him or them.

Cory then reveals his true identity to Lowery.  “Space Security Service. Licensed to kill.” Yep, this was very much the time when Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond was dominating cinema screens and Cory is a blatant attempt to steal a little of 007’s thunder.  It’s an unusual move for Doctor Who though, which until now hasn’t tended to be influenced that much by contemporary popular culture.

Cory explains that he’s on the trail of the Daleks.  They haven’t bothered the Earth for a thousand years, but all that seems to have changed as a Dalek ship has been spotted in the vicinity.  This shattering revelation is followed by the most melodramatic music cue possible.

Wait! Garvey’s not dead.  Instead he’s suffered a far worse fate – he’s turned into a Varga plant!

The Daleks are also on Kembel and they’re here to chair a meeting between the leaders of the seven galaxies.  Some of the representatives we see here also pop up in The Daleks’ Master Plan, although by then some were played by different actors.

And some of the representatives in The Daleks’ Master Plan are totally different from how they look in this episode, which is another puzzle.  Luckily there are those who have pondered these issues long and hard.  For the curious, I can recommend this post by Jac Rayner on her blog Delegate Detective.

Whatever names they have or whichever actor is playing them, the delegates are a rum lot who certainly don’t have a lot of love for our precious planet Earth.  As Malpha (Robert Cartland) succinctly puts it.  “This is indeed an historic moment in the history of the universe!  We six from the outer galaxies, joining with the power from the solar system – the Daleks!  The seven of us represent the greatest war force ever assembled!  Conquest is assured!”

That spells trouble.  I hope the Doctor is somewhere around …..

Doctor Who – Galaxy 4. Part Four – The Exploding Planet

After the Doctor and Vicki rescue Steven from the airlock, they leave him to have a chat with the Rill (still voiced in a deep and booming fashion by Robert Cartland).  This is one of the more interesting scenes in this final episode.  Earlier, both Vicki and the Doctor were happy to accept the Rill’s bona fides at face value, but Steven’s a much more cynical sort.

STEVEN: So the Doctor trusts you?
RILL: Why shouldn’t he?
STEVEN: No reason. I suppose you gave right ethical reasons for him, so naturally he does trust you.
RILL: We rescued you from the Drahvins, but you still don’t trust us?
STEVEN: Oh, you could be the same as them – using us for your own salvation.

Steven eventually accepts that the Rills are operating in good faith, but this scene demonstrates Steven’s independence.   Peter Purves’ dislike for the story is well known (he believed his part had originally been written for Barbara and then was hastily rewritten) but little moments like this are good ones for the character.

In the end, the moral of the story is helpfully spelled out after the Doctor, Steven and Vicki have a face-to-face meeting with the Rill.  Even the Doctor is slightly taken aback by his appearance, but after his initial surprise he treats him with equanimity.

Vicki and Steven are equally accepting.  Vicki says that “I mean, after all, we must look just as strange to you” whilst Steven tells the Rill that “what difference does it make what your form is?”  The Doctor is able to cap these noble sentiments off when he grandly proclaims that “importance lies in the character and to what use you put this intelligence. We respect you as we respect all life.”

It’s Maaga’s inability to see past the Rills’ startling experience which seals her fate and that of her soldiers.  The Rills would have been happy to take the Drahvins with them once the Doctor had repaired their ship, but this was never a possibility for Maaga.  For her there was only one answer – kill the Rills and take their ship by force.

But her attempt to launch an attack comes to nothing and she’s forced to watch as the Rills’ spaceship takes off without them.   That we’re denied a pitched Drahvin/Chumbly battle for control of the Rills spaceship feels like a missed opportunity, as is the fact that the Doctor and his friends are able to reach the TARDIS without being stopped by Maaga.

I wonder if some of the other Doctors would have decided to rescue Maaga and the others?  Not Billy though, he’s more than happy to nip off and leave them to their fate.  In the world of the first Doctor it’s plain that the Drahvins had their chance to demonstrate that – like the Rills – they could show compassion for others.  They didn’t, so the Doctor leaves them to face certain death.

With only one extant episode it’s hard to really know how effective the story was.  The Loose Cannon recon certainly makes an heroic effort to provide some visual moments for the other three episodes, but even if the whole story existed I doubt it would be regarded as anything more than a fairly middling story.

The rather simplistic message at the heart of the story (ugly doesn’t have to mean evil) had been covered more fruitfully before – even in the sedate form of The Sensorites.

Doctor Who – Galaxy 4. Part Three – Airlock


Galaxy 4 has never been regarded as one of Doctor Who‘s great tales, something which was made plain when Air Lock was recovered.  The news was met with polite interest, but there was an undeniable feeling that many were wishing something from a “classic” story (like Power of the Daleks) had been found instead.

Hopefully some minds were changed after the episode was released on DVD, as the return of any missing DW episode (even from an obscure and unloved story like this one) should be celebrated.  It’s wonderful to have the audios and recons, but they can only tell half the story – the previously unknown visual moments from Air Lock were a real revelation for me.

For example, we finally got to see a Rill in all its glory.  One of the series’ more mysterious monsters (for a long time even photographic evidence was sparse) it’s fair to say that the visuals didn’t do it many favours.

It does rather look like a piece of cardboard slowly moving behind a screen (so this was one of those occasions where the static image was preferable).  The voice acting from Robert Carland was powerful though – he certainly put everything he could into the role.

But if the visual representation of the Rill was a little disappointing, then the joy of watching Hartnell in full flow more than made up for it.  I love Hartnell’s Doctor (I may have mentioned this a few times before) and he’s in cracking form in this episode.

One of my favourite moments (another of those visual touches that we hadn’t previously known about) occurs when the Doctor orders the Chumblies about.  Lovely stuff!  The scene when he tangles with a Drahvin, using his stick as a weapon (and calling her madam!) is another little gem.

This was Derek Martinus’ directorial debut on the series.  He wasn’t the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last, to find Hartnell rather difficult, but whilst Martinus may have been inexperienced he was still able to produce some interesting moments.

Most notable is Maaga’s monologue which Stephanie Bidmead delivers direct to camera. The flashback scene showing the moment when the Drahvins and Rills both crashed on the planet was another impressive visual touch – shot from the Rill’s POV.

The Doctor’s in a very reckless mood. He decides to sabotage the Rill’s machine which produces ammonia for them. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn’t realise it was vital to their survival. At least he has the good grace to look a little bashful afterwards!

Peter Purves doesn’t have a great deal to do today.  Trapped in the air lock for most of the episode, he might as well have sat this one out.  This passive role no doubt helps to reinforce his belief that Galaxy 4 was a story that did Steven few favours, but had one of the earlier episodes been recovered then it’s possible that he may have looked a little more kindly on the story (as Steven certainly has a more active role in the first two episodes).

Doctor Who – Galaxy Four. Part Two – Trap of Steel

Maaga has allowed the Doctor and Steven to leave the Drahvin ship in order to establish whether the planet really will be destroyed in fourteen dawns.  The audience is several steps ahead though – we know that this estimate is wildly optimistic (the planet will actually expire in another two dawns).

Vicki’s been left behind as a hostage, but luckily she doesn’t have to bear Maaga’s company for too long as the others return with news.  The Doctor decides to be economical with the truth to begin with and tells Maaga that the Rill’s estimate of fourteen dawns was correct.  The only problem is that Maaga then reveals that the repairs to the Rill’s spaceship will also take fourteen dawns.

Maaga once again repeats what almost seems to be a mantra – the Rills are evil and must be destroyed.  The possibility of working together to leave the planet never seems to enter her head.

But it’s interesting that despite the fact she seems to loathe the Rills, she’s also picked up a certain amount of information from them – the notion that the planet’s lifespan is limited to fourteen dawns and the time needed to repair their ship, for example.  If they’re such implacable enemies it’s a little odd that they’ve been so free with vital information like this.

Maaga is able to winkle out from the Doctor the fact that two dawns is all the time the planet has left to enjoy.  So the Doctor and Vicki (with Steven this time left behind as the Drahvin’s hostage) set out to meet the Rills to see if they can speed up the repairs 

This is not before time – after all, we learnt early in episode one about them and there’s a strong sense that the story can’t advance until we hear their side of things.  But the Doctor, and the story, isn’t inclined to rush so we’ll have to wait until the next episode before the Doctor and Vicki come (sort of) face to face with a Rill.

Whilst the Doctor and Vicki are slowly making their way to the Rill’s spaceship, Steven is attempting to sow discord aboard the Drahvin’s ship.  He’s able to easily manipulate one of Maaga’s footsoldiers, but it doesn’t gain him much of an advantage.

Galaxy 4 has long been one of Peter Purves’ least favourite stories, mainly because he believed it was written for Ian and Barbara (and Barbara’s role was then hastily rewritten for him).  There’s not a great deal of evidence for that in this episode though.  Steven has several very decent scenes – especially when he confronts Maaga – and whilst it’s possible that Barbara could have been as strong, everything we see here is totally consistent with Steven’s already established character.

Little of note happens in Trap of Steel.  Events are moving, but we’ll have to wait until the next episode to see how they pay off.  Since episode three now exists that’s not entirely a bad thing, but it does mean that Trap of Steel is rather forgettable in its own right.

Doctor Who – Galaxy Four. Part One – Four Hundred Dawns

four

Galaxy 4 opens with a scene of domestic life aboard the TARDIS – Vicki is cutting Steven’s hair. Does she also trim the Doctor’s I wonder? But musings about the barbering requirements aboard the ship are (ahem) cut short when they land on what appears to be a completely deserted planet.

The Doctor is convinced there’s no life out there. Ooops. Just a minute later a strange robot is observed slowing moving around the TARDIS. Later Doctors tended to verge on the omnipotent, but this moment is a reminder that the original Doctor didn’t have all the answers (and also had the good grace to admit when he was wrong).

Vicki’s delighted with the small robot, nicknaming it a Chumbley, because it has a sort of chumbley movement. No, me neither. But it’s as good a name as any and it’s helpful to have the device named since it instantly imbues it with more of a personality.

So far we’re about eight minutes in and the story has proceeded in a leisurely fashion. Things start to pick up when two blonde women throw a net over the hapless Chumbley. Steven’s all over them in a rash. “Aren’t they a lovely surprise” he coos and when they introduce themselves as Drahvins he responds “and very nice too.” A smooth talker, that boy.

This early scene helps to establish that there are two factions on the planet – the Drahvins and the Rills (who control the Chumblies). The Drahvins view the Rills with extreme loathing. “They are not people. They are things. They crawl. They murder.”

I wonder if the story was asking the audience to assume that the Rills were evil and the Drahvins good? But since the script makes it plain that both the Doctor and Vicki view the Drahvins, even after this initial meeting, with suspicion that doesn’t seem to be so. They might be superficially attractive but there’s an unsettling coldness to them.

This does sap the suspense somewhat – it may have been more interesting for the Drahvins to be presented as welcoming and friendly, with their true natures only slowly revealed. Of course, another avenue to explore would have been if both sides were as evil and warlike as each other – meaning that the Doctor and his friends were caught in the middle with no potential allies.

Until the recovery of episode three, Airlock, the only surviving visual material had been a five minute excerpt from this episode. After the static nature of the recon, it’s nice to have moving pictures again (albeit briefly) as the Doctor and the others meet the leader of the Drahvins, Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead). She rules her subordinates with fear, but is cordial with the Doctor, no doubt because she believes he could be of some use to her in the war with the Rills.

Maaga chats a little about her home planet, which adheres to various SF clichés. “Oh, we have a small number of men, as many as we need. The rest we kill. They consume valuable food and fulfill no particular function.” Most of the Drahvins are clones – only Maaga is a real person, the rest are bred to fight and die (which handily explains their wooden delivery and lack of spark).

With the planet due to explode in fourteen dawns time, Maaga has a problem. Their ship is damaged, so she has to find some way to force the Rills to take them (or destroy the Rills and commander their ship). If the episode has proceeded in a rather leisurely fashion so far, then the revelation that the planet will actually explode in two dawns does add a little urgency to proceedings ……

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Four – Checkmate

It’s not too much of a stretch to see the Monk as an inversion of the Doctor.  Wheras the Doctor has had a strong aversion to changing history (although only it seems to apply to the Earth prior to the 1960’s) the Monk is quite the opposite.

He explains his brilliant plan to the Doctor. “Well, for instance, Harold, King Harold, I know he’d be a good king. There wouldn’t be all those wars in Europe, those claims over France went on for years and years. With peace the people’d be able to better themselves. With a few hints and tips from me they’d be able to have jet airliners by 1320! Shakespeare’d be able to put Hamlet on television.”

No surprise that the Doctor is appalled, although one of the problems with stories which address the possibility of changing history is that they pose more questions than they answer.

Doctor Who’s first script editor David Whitaker was quite clear on this point – the Doctor couldn’t change history.  Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.  Several less than convincing reasons were provided to explain this. For example, if they’d attempted to assassinate a key figure like Napoleon then the bullet would have been bound to miss him.

Quite how this would happen is never made clear, unless we assume that that there’s some mysterious force in the universe which knows the “true” course of history and would automatically deal with any deviations.

This isn’t very satisfying and when Dennis Spooner took over from David Whitaker he quickly changed things around.  Now, the Doctor could change history but the question was more whether he should.  The Doctor voices his fear about the Monk’s meddling.  “He’s utterly irresponsible. He wants to destroy the whole pattern of world history.”

Is the Doctor concerned because the Monk’s plans will have a detrimental effect on Earth’s development or is it that he doesn’t want to see established history changed?  If everything the Monk predicted came to pass then it might actually be positive.  But how would anybody know?  As discussed by Vicki and Steven, as soon as a change is made it would become true history and they’d never have known any other.

VICKI: It looks as though that Monk’s going to get away with it after all.
STEVEN: Yes, but he can’t, can he? I don’t know much about history but I do know that William the Conqueror did win the Battle of Hastings.
VICKI: Up till now he did. If the Monk changes it, I suppose our memories will change as well.
STEVEN: What about the history books?
VICKI: That’s all right. They’re not written yet. They’ll just write and print the new version.
STEVEN: But that means that the exact minute, the exact second that he does it, every history book, every, well, the whole future of every year and time on Earth will change, just like that and nobody’ll know that it has?
VICKI: I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say.

Although the Doctor’s still keen to present himself as an observer and not a meddler like the Monk, every time he visits a planet he makes a material difference and therefore changes history. If he hadn’t appeared somewhere then events would have played out differently. How different this is from the Monk’s plans is hard to say. See, time travel is a tricky business …

The Doctor manages to defeat the Monk, although I’ve always found it slightly strange that he elects to strand him on Earth.  He may not have access to his TARDIS, but he still has his knowledge and a stockpile of anachronistic inventions.  Surely he could do some damage to history with these?

Ah well, probably best to think about it too deeply.  The Time Meddler is content to be nothing more than a comic romp, with the main entertainment to be found in the Doctor’s clashes with the Monk.  It’ll never top any favourites poll, but it’s a solid entertainment and brings the second series to a decent conclusion.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Three – A Battle of Wits

At the start of this episode it’s clear that Vicki still has the upper hand over Steven.  She’s the one who deduces that the Doctor must have escaped from his cell via a secret passage (and she also manages to find it).

But the roles are reversed later after they return to the beach.  Vicki is appalled to find that the tide’s come in, as it surely must mean that the TARDIS has been washed out to sea.  Steven tries to comfort her by telling her that maybe the Doctor has moved it, but that only upsets her even more.  If the Doctor’s demateralised the TARDIS then he’d have no way of returning and they’ll be stranded in eleventh century Britain forever.

Although Vicki has developed a pleasingly independant streak over the last few stories, her sudden despair and defeatism does suggest that she’s not too far removed from the naive young girl we met in The Rescue.  It seems hard to credit that she’d really believe the Doctor would just leave them – but possibly this doubt can be put down to the lingering trauma of her life on Dido.

The Doctor’s still very much about though and he pays another visit to Edith.  As he takes his leave of her, there’s a nice shot as the camera moves from behind the actors and refocuses with Hartnell framed in a close-up and a puzzled looking Edith placed in the background.

Apart from Douglas Camfield’s undoubted skill with a film camera, he was also someone who pushed hard to achieve interesting picture compositions in the studio.  Due to the hectic nature of Doctor Who‘s production it wasn’t always possible, but scattered throughout his stories are numerous examples (the grouping of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria at the start of The Web of Fear is a good one).

Given how unwieldy the cameras were in 1965 it obviously wasn’t an easy task to move it so quickly (you can detect a little wobble as it repositions) but I’m glad Camfield made the effort as it just adds a little something to the conclusion of the scene.

The nature of the Doctor’s relationship with the Monk is still a mystery (which is only answered, indirectly, at the end of the episode).  That the Monk knows his name when they meet again might suggest that they already know each other, but this could also be explained away by a conversation earlier in the story which we didn’t see.

It’s interesting that the Doctor gains the upper hand by using the old trick of pointing a stick into the Monk’s back and pretending that it’s a rifle.  If they were old acquaintances then you’d have assumed that the Monk would know that the Doctor wouldn’t pull the trigger.  Unless, of course, the young Doctor was a bloodthirsty sort who’s only recently mended his ways!

The Monk’s plan is becoming clearer though.  He wants to destroy the incoming Viking fleet and has a helpful checklist to aid his memory, which I love.  It starts with his landing in Northumberland and ends with him meeting King Harold (no doubt to receive the King’s grateful thanks).  Clearly the Monk was a little starstruck.

Two less than fearsome Vikings – Sven (David Anderson) & Ulf (Norman Hartley) are still lurking about.  They decide to hide in the monastery, which is a bad idea as the Doctor and the Monk are able, independently, to deal with them.  Both are attended to in the same way – the Doctor and the Monk bash them over their heads with what appears to be very thin strips of balsa wood.  Is this just a coincidence or is the script attempting to show that the two time-travelers are very much the same deep down?

Various clues – a wristwatch in the forest, the record player – have strongly suggested that the Monk isn’t of this time, but we have to wait until the end of the episode before Vicki and Steven make a stunning discovery – the Monk has a TARDIS.  This is something of a game-changer for the series as it’s the first step on the road to introducing the Time Lords.

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part Two – The Meddling Monk

monk

During The Watcher, the monk was presented as something of a sinister figure, but the first minutes of The Meddling Monk portrays the character in quite a different light. We see him pottering about the monastery preparing breakfast (with the unspoken question ligering about how there could be a toaster and other modern appliances in England, 1066). He then toddles along to the Doctor’s cell and cheerily bids him good morning.

Although he’s obviously crowing that the Doctor’s still his prisoner, since he’s gone to the trouble of preparing him a hearty breakfast he can’t be all that bad. Such a pity that his efforts are wasted as the Doctor flings the food back into his face! Pre-recorded lines of dialogue from Hartnell help to create the illusion that the Doctor’s in the cell (whereas we won’t actually see him in person again until the following episode).

Butterworth’s a joy throughout this episode and indeed the rest of the story as well. Little bits of business – such as attempting to take some snuff on the windy mountaintop – might have been the sort of thing worked out in rehearsal, but it helps to fill what would otherwise be a quiet moment.

Butterworth interacts appealingly with the villagers as well as Vicki and Steven but he really shines when the monk and the Doctor clash later in the story . Hartnell and Butterworth spark off each other so well that it’s no surprise that the monk was brought back for a further appearance in season three.

Steven continues to act in a fairly aggressive manner. After they’re apprehended by the villagers he’s quick to react angrily, but the headman of the village, Wulnoth (Martin Miller), believes they’re are innocent travellers and is content to see them on their way.

He provides them with food and drink for their journey, which Steven – first grudgingly and then with more feeling – thanks him for. In parting, Wulnoth and Edith offer their ritual farewell – “god be with you”. Politeness dictates that both Vicki and Steven respond in kind. Vicki does so straightaway, but it’s another nice character beat that Steven hesitates for a few seconds before he gives the response as well.

A small raiding party of Vikings adds an element of danger to the story. They’re a rum looking lot though (beards and eye-patches ahoy). The leader orders his men to remain undetected, as their mission is to gather intelligence for a forthcoming substantial attack. However they don’t really achieve this …..

Two of them attack Edith and although it’s not explicitly stated, it’s plain that she’s been raped. That Vikings enjoyed a bit of rape and plunder is a historical fact, but it’s still a slight surprise to see it in this story (even if it’s done in an understated way).

Eldred (Peter Russell), a beardy, wide-eyed member of the village is convinced that Steven was responsible, but this potential plotline was never developed as Edith quickly confirms that it was the Vikings. Had this been a six-parter, then maybe we might have seen the angry villagers pursuing Steven and Vicki, but this potential plotline is nothing more than a throwaway moment here.

Indeed, the story continues to move at quite a pace – only a few moments after Wulnoth, Eldred and the others set off to look for the Vikings, they find them (and a brief battle ensues). With Eldred injured, Wulnoth takes him to the monastery, where the monk is forced to take him in. Vicki and Steven are also there and find the Doctor’s cell, but the Doctor’s no longer there …..

Doctor Who – The Time Meddler. Part One – The Watcher

The opening moments of The Time Meddler finds both the Doctor and Vicki in a reflective mood.  But this period of quiet (nicely played by both Hartnell and O’Brien) is rudely shattered by noises from within the TARDIS.  Vicki’s convinced that it’s a Dalek and the pair take up defensive postures.  Although had have been, I’m not sure that the Doctor’s coat and Vicki’s shoe would have been adequate weapons!

But of course it’s not, instead a rather disheveled Steven Taylor comes staggering through the door, still clutching his toy panda Hi-Fi.  Our last sighting of Steven came in the previous episode when he was grabbed by the fungoids (insert your own joke here).  So somehow, weak though he was, he was able to stagger into the TARDIS – but rather than remain in the console room, he ventured further inside and managed to remain undetected until after the Doctor had taken off.

It’s a slightly contrived way of reintroducing him, but nonetheless it’s quite effective – I’m sure a large portion of the audience would have assumed he was simply a one-episode character who we’d never see again.

Immediately after Steven makes his presence known, the TARDIS lands on a rocky beach next to the sea.  One the things that most impresses me most about this serial is how Douglas Camfield was able to use a number of simple, but very effective, tricks to create the feel of outdoors locations in this wholly studio-bound story.

The arrival of the TARDIS is a good example – there’s a few seconds of stock footage showing waves crashing on rocks, then a cut to a photographic slide of a rocky outcrop where the TARDIS materialises, followed by  a shot of the monk (Peter Butterworth) observing events from higher up.  Behind the monk, courtesy of back projection, clouds roll past.  The latter was a fairly common trick used at the time, but sometimes – if the backcloth was wrinkled – it didn’t convince.  Here it’s perfect and the illusion is very effective.

Whereas Vicki had little difficulty in her first story about believing that the TARDIS could travel anywhere in time and space, Steven is a lot harder to convince (he’s rather like Ian in this respect).   But whilst Vicki (and later Dodo) were designed to be little more than Susan clones, Steven is a little different from Ian.  Steven is initially presented as brash and arrogant and incurs the Doctor’s displeasure when he refers to him as Doc (something which always irritated the Doctor down the years).

The Doctor’s quickly separated from Vicki and Steven (and isn’t reunited with them until episode four).   This is partly designed to cover Hartnell’s absence from episode two, but it also allows Purves and O’Brien to immediately build a rapport.  Steven and Vicki work well together and there’s a few entertaining sparks in their relationship (something which never happened with the much more settled combination of Ian, Barbara and Vicki).

Meanwhile the Doctor’s wandered off to a small settlement and has made the acquaintance of Edith (Alethea Charlton).  Charlton had appeared in the first story, also in a somewhat grimy role, but Edith is a much more welcoming character than Hur.  The Doctor’s scenes with Edith, as he shares a cup of mead and they chat, are rather charming.  But his time relaxing is cut short when he hears strange noises at the monastery – the chanting monks suddenly dramatically slow down.

This moment marks the first occurrence of what tended to be known as the pseudo historical.  Historical stories had been a feature right from the start of the series, but this is the first time that elements from the future (apart from the Doctor himself) were added into the mix.  Possibly this was done in order to shake up the format – a mixture of history and sci-fi was an obvious move.

During this episode Peter Butterworth’s monk has been a solitary, silent figure (the watcher of the title).  The cliffhanger shows the Doctor trapped in the monastery and the monk laughing at his fate.  We’ve still yet to learn anything about the monk or his motivations though – but the next episode (as Hartnell takes a holiday) will allow him to come to the fore.