Back To Christmas 1982 (3rd January 1983)

There’s a definite post-Christmas feel to the BBC schedules today – with only the new series of Doctor Who catching my eye.

DW is in 20th anniversary mode – and the show begins as it means to go on with a story featuring the return of an old adversary. Since this baddie (Omega) made his sole appearance some ten years earlier, you could argue that the majority of the audience might be somewhat perplexed when the ‘great’ reveal is done.

But this, I guess, is the conflict between general audience/fan appreciation which continues to dog the series today. How far should you go in pandering to the fans? (who are never satisfied, whatever you  do).

After all this preamble, do I enjoy Arc of Infinity?  Well, not much. The location filming in Amsterdam is nice and it’s good to see Michael Gough guest star but it’s a bit of a dull run around. However, bonus points have to be issued in Nyssa’s direction – she’s finally grown up and become a more assertive character.

Which is a bit ironic, since her time with the series is now very limited ….

I’ll take another Laurel and Hardy film (Our Relations) on ITV and I’ll follow that up with Zulu, the ideal sort of film made for a quiet holiday afternoon. It launched Michael Caine’s career, after a lengthy series of false starts, but there’s plenty of value lower down the bill (Paul Daneman, Glynn Edwards, Neil McCarthy, Gary Bond).

Adele Rose is on scripting duty for Coronation Street and I’ll round off the evening with a late night Thriller repeat (Look Back in Darkness). Bradford Dillman and Catherine Schell star in a script by Terence Feely.

Doctor Who – The Abominable Snowmen

Well this might be another base under siege story but at least the base location (a Tibetan monastery) is an unusual choice ….

For once, the Doctor hasn’t simply turned up somewhere out of the blue, he’s arrived for a reason (returning a precious holy relic to the Detsen Monastery). This sort of works, although it does raise a few questions – not least why 300 hundred years ago the monks entrusted their Ghanta to the Doctor (who presumably nipped off in the TARDIS pretty sharpish once the bandits started attacking). And since the Ghanta’s only a little thing, surely they could have found a safe place inside the monastery to hide it?

The Doctor’s child-like glee at, for once, having arrived where he intended is quite charming and the energetic way he causes havoc by rummaging through centuries worth of junk in order to find the Ghanta also raises a smile (although I’m glad he quickly settles down as too much of this hyperactive Doctor would have been a little wearying).

After the Doctor goes out to explore on his own, Jamie and Victoria are left cooling their heels. A subtle shift in their relationship has taken place since Tomb – in this first episode especially, Victoria is the pro-active one – keen to go exploring while Jamie is cautious and reluctant to disobey the Doctor’s instruction to remain inside the TARDIS.

I wonder if this was intended to slightly beef up Victoria’s role in the series (up until this point she’s been something of a limp lettuce) or maybe it simply demonstrates Jamie’s protective side (he might be keen to explore but doesn’t want to risk her life).

Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen was one of the first Target novelisations I bought, so Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of Haisman and Lincoln’s scripts remains the version closest to my heart. He didn’t make that many changes, although one occurs right at the start – in the book we immediately understand everything about Travers (the ridicule he faced at home for his insistence that the Yeti exist, etc) which is only revealed later in the first episode.

In the first episode Jack Watling plays Travers as a man teetering on the edge of madness. This might be because he’s seen his colleague murdered by the Yeti, but the fact he’s been searching the Himalayas for twenty years and has yet to track the Yeti down might also explain why he’s gone a little doolally.

Given that the script sharply pulls back on this from episode two onwards (from this point on Travers seems to be pretty well adjusted) it makes me wonder if it was Watling’s choice to go slightly over the top to begin with.

Apart from Jack Watling, the other notable guest performer is Norman Jones as Khrisong. Jones tended to play authority figures (Coronation Street, Travelling Man and Inspector Morse are just three series off the top of my head which saw him play policemen) and Khrisong fits neatly into this mould.

Khrisong is a Warrior Monk, pledged to protect the Detsen Monastery from the Yeti who recently have turned into violent killers. This is the point where the story starts to slightly unravel – we later learn that the Great Intelligence has been plotting for two hundred years (oh, and what’s taken them so long?) so why during the last few months, when their plans are nearly complete, have they decided to draw attention to themselves in this overt way?

The Abominable Snowmen is one of a handful of stories which lacks any incidental music (not even the odd snippet of stock music). Most of the time you don’t miss it, although perhaps the odd blast now and again might have made the Yeti seem a little more imposing. It’s certainly true that the Yeti Mk 1 don’t look that terrifying – the way they wobble in a pot-bellied way is something of a handicap.

Although the audience knows that Padmasambhava and the Abbot are controlling the Yeti, the Doctor is much slower on the uptake (for at least one episode the finger of suspicion points at Travers). This story beat would later be repeated during The Web of Fear, although then the audience would be kept in the dark as well.

When the Doctor and Jamie go off adventuring on the mountain during episode four, Victoria is (unsurprisingly) left behind. She proves to be more than a handful for poor Thomni, due to the way she decides to poke her nose into various places where she’s not allowed, such as the Inner Sanctum.

You can take this one of two ways – either it’s an example of her immaturity (failing to understand that the monastery has strict rules) or possibly (and less appealingly) it highlights the autocratic British Victorian attitude that there’s nowhere on the planet that’s off limits to them.

By this point in the story it’s fair to say that the plot is progressing at a leisurely pace, but at least the Troughton/Hines partnership continues to deliver rich dividends. The Doctor’s scientific plan for working out whether a stationary Yeti is deactivated (“bung a rock at it”) is priceless.

During the Doctor and Jamie’s absence from the monastery, Victoria suddenly attracts the suspicion of most of the monks (with the exception of Thomni and belatedly Khrisong). Quite why this happens is a slight mystery and I get the impression that Terrance Dicks felt so too, as he added a scene in the novelisation where an unwilling Victoria was forced to put the control sphere back in the Yeti. That certainly helps to explain why Rinchen suddenly labels her to be a “devil woman” ….

Although he’s heard throughout the serial, we don’t get a good look at Wolfe Morris as Padmasambhava until the end of part four. At first glance he looks rather ordinary – but when the telesnaps go in a little closer you can see just how caked in make-up Morris was. Maybe in motion this would have helped to sell the illusion of Padmasambhava’s great age or possibly it might have been very unconvincing – unless any of the missing episodes turn up we’re not going to know one way or the other.

But given that most of Morris’ performance is a vocal one, it’s easier to judge that. Although Padmasambhava does lapse into incomprehensibility from time to time, Morris is well able to constantly switch between the character’s two states (the benign countenance of the wise master and the evil malevolence of the Great Intelligence).

Neither of the Yeti stories conclude terribly effectively. In this one, the Doctor and his friends simply pop into the Inner Sanctum and smash all the equipment they can find (Padmasambhava and the Yeti offer token resistance, but you never feel that the objective is in doubt).

I’m also slightly disappointed by the Intelligence’s vague plans. They apparently want to either invade, consume or destroy the Earth (but we never learn any more than that). We’re still fairly close to the Hartnell era, where the invasion of Earth was a novelty rather than the series’ default setting. As the years roll on we’ll see the Invasion Earth plotline used again and again, so it seems churlish to criticise it here, but part of me does hanker for the wider variety of storylines from the First Doctor’s time.

Pluses towards the end of the story? Khrisong’s death (murdered by the Abbot who was under the control of the Intelligence) is one. Khrisong has made the journey from being the Doctor’s enemy to his uneasy ally, which gives his death a little extra impact. As does its sheer pointlessness – in story terms it doesn’t really advance the plot, although I suppose you could argue it focuses the Doctor’s attention on Padmasambhava.

Travers is rather sidelined in episode six (he’s sent to run up the mountain, achieve nothing and then run down again) but at least he’ll be given another six episodes soon.

Overall I’d say that this is a story rich in atmosphere but short on logic. Having said that, it’s easy to pick apart any Doctor Who story if you want to, so sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. And there’s plenty of plusses – not least the way Troughton keeps a tight grip on proceedings. I’ll give it 3.5 TARDISes out of 5 (an extra half point for the fact that the Target novel was such a seminal read).

Doctor Who – The Tomb of the Cybermen

So here we are at the start of season five. It’s hard not to feel a mild sense of achievement now that season four has been put to bed – with only ten surviving episodes from a run of nine serials (the last complete story was The War Machines way back at the end of season three) it’s fair to say that things were a little hard going at times.

But now we’ve hit S5, surviving episodes are the rule rather than the exception. Although it wasn’t always like that ….

Gnarled old Doctor Who fans will no doubt recall the excitement generated when Tomb was recovered in 1992. Personally I didn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. It was good news of course, but at that point in time I was only just beginning to build up my collection of DW VHSs. So the fact that Tomb had been unavailable before 1992 didn’t mean a great deal to me (after all, I’d only seen The War Games for the first time in 1990).

The later recoveries of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear were totally different of course. By 2013 I’d lived with the audios and telesnaps of those stories for decades, so finally getting the chance to see them was (dare I say it) just a little bit emotional.

Older fans than I had built an impressive mythology around Tomb. Jeremy Bentham, writing in DWB back in 1992, declared that Tomb was the pinnacle of missing stories (a viewpoint that seems odd now). But for me, not having to approach the story with any particular baggage meant I could simply enjoy it (or not).

Things begin promisingly enough. We’re introduced to an archeological group comprised of a number of wildly different characters. George Pastell made a career out of playing swarthy untrustworthy foreigners – today he’s cast as Eric Klieg (who’s a swarthy untrustworthy foreigner). He’s accompanied by Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) who is content to play the Lady Macbeth role whilst her servant Toberman (Roy Stewart) lurks in the background, strong and mostly silent.

Kaftan, like Klieg, has a foreign accent which instantly marks them both down as villains while Professor Parry (Aubrey Richards), with his reassuring Welsh tones, is clearly on the side of the angels. Then there’s Cyril Shaps as John Viner and Bernard Holley as Peter Haydon. Both are destined not to see the story out – Holley cops it at the end of the first episode whilst Shaps meets his end in the following one.

That’s a double pity as both were the sort of actors who enlivened any production they appeared in. Holley had less to work with (Haydon was simply a cheerful type with no particular axe to grind) whilst Shaps played his trademark role – the little man seemingly always at the edge of a nervous breakdown.

The Doctor clashes entertainingly with Klieg in the first few episodes. Klieg’s overweening arrogance and belief in his own abilities contrasts sharply with the Doctor’s modest playfulness. It’s the Doctor, of course, who’s able to unlock the secrets of the Cybermen’s tomb – although given that he’s well aware how dangerous they are, why he should want to do so is anyone’s guess.

Without the Doctor’s help, would Klieg have continued to flounder? Maybe, or maybe not – so perhaps the Doctor felt that it was better to draw Klieg’s sting as quickly as possible.

The production centres around two key sets – the tomb entrance and the tombs themselves. Given that this story was recorded in Lime Grove (a studio not known for its size) this was a wise move, plus, as with The Moonbase, if you restrict the number of sets then you can spend more money on them – which doesn’t hurt.

There’s no doubt that several sequences – remembered by those who watched the story on its original transmission in 1967 – helped to bolster Tomb‘s reputation in the twenty five years that followed. The end of episode two – the defrosted Cybermen emerge from their tombs and the imposing figure of their Controller (Michael Kilgarriff) utters his first words – is an obvious one.

Once the Cybermen have warmed up a little, they reveal their master plan. Having taken a long nap in their tombs they decided to wait for someone to find and unfreeze them (those lucky people would then be the first in a new race of Cybermen). Given that Professor Parry’s party is on the small side, there’s a slight flaw here …

Whilst the Cybermen are still physically imposing (is it just me, or are they taller than before?) in other respects they’re slightly disappointing. Like all modern electronic devices they can’t last long without recharging – which means that most of the Cybermen are forced back into their tombs for forty winks long before the end of the story although the Controller does venture upstairs to use the revitalising machine.

This is an enjoyable scene, although the Controller bursting through the very flimsy door of the revitalising machine is one of those moments that would have worked better in audio (ditto, the damage the Cybermen do to the main hatch – at one point I thought they were going to stick their fist right through it).

And while we’re on the subject of the Cybermen, they do an awful lot of rhubarbing which also helps to slightly deflate their imposing aura.

Having been fairly passive throughout Evil of the Daleks, it’s good to see that Victoria was given more to do in this one. She spends some time in the villainous clutches of Kaftan, which allows Deborah Watling to tease out a little of Victoria’s pluck and bravery.  Sadly, Shirley Cooklin never really impresses, so these scenes don’t carry that much of a punch.

Strong female guest star roles were a rarity in this era (strong female guest star villains even rarer) so it’s a pity that Cooklin didn’t do more with the role of Kaftan. The potential was there – the script tells us on more than one occasion that Kaftan is the power behind the throne and she’s more than able to manipulate Klieg – but it all rather falls flat on screen.

Later, the Doctor and Victoria share a much quoted ‘moment of charm’. It’s mainly Troughton’s scene (“I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they sleep in my mind, and I forget”) but it also serves another purpose – reminding the audience where Victoria had come from.

Klieg’s come-uppance in the final episode is long overdue. It’s preceded by a lovely Troughton/Pastell two-hander in which the Doctor tests the limits of Klieg’s insanity.

DOCTOR: Don’t you see what this is going to all mean to all the people who come to serve Klieg the All Powerful? Why, no country, no person would dare to have a single thought that was not your own. Eric Klieg’s own conception of the, of the way of life!
KLIEG: Brilliant! Yes, yes, you’re right. Master of the world.
DOCTOR: Well now I know you’re mad. I just wanted to make sure.

Apparently Vladek Sheybal was the first choice for Klieg, but I’ve no complaints with Pastell’s turn. It’s not a subtle performance, but then neither was the character.

Before I wrap up, there’s just a few more things I need to get off my chest. Why did the Cybermen seemingly have no way to open their tombs once they were down below? Surely it’s not logical for the only opening switch to be above ground (where the Cybermen no longer are?)

And did Parry and Hopper really leave poor Toberman lying dead on the ground outside the tomb? After he sacrifices his life to save them, it looks for all the world like Parry and Hopper blithely toddle off to their ship whilst the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria stroll back to the TARDIS. I hope that someone came back and gave the chap a decent burial.

So Tomb of the Cybermen doesn’t quite live up to the mythic status it enjoyed prior to 1992, but then no story really could. It’s still a very competent production, although some of the flimsier sets are a bit distracting. The performances are good, but not great (none of the guest cast are given multi-layered characters and the likes of Clive Merrison do rather struggle with their American accents).

But on the plus side it zips by very agreeably, so it’s certainly worth 3.5 TARDISes out of 5.

Time to hit pause on this rewatch for a few weeks. All being well I should pick things up in mid July.

Doctor Who – The Evil of the Daleks

Following directly on from the events at the end of The Faceless Ones (a rarity for the Troughton era, although it happened regularly during his predecessors time) episode one of The Evil of the Daleks is content to take things nice and slow.

The audience are already several steps ahead of the Doctor and Jamie though. While our time-travelling chums spend some time wondering who’s stolen the TARDIS and diligently following a set of planted clues in order to recover it, the viewers at home (thanks to the story title) know exactly who’s to blame ….

This isn’t the first time that the Doctor’s been drawn into a story thanks to the machinations of his enemy (The Chase) and it would happen again fairly shortly (The Web of Fear).  It’s never been a favourite plot device of mine, although I will concede that it’s probably a better way of getting the story moving than having the Doctor turn up somewhere thanks to blind chance.

Mind you, when you begin to analyse the Daleks’ master plan (as it were) to ensnare the Doctor, you can’t help stumbling over some plotholes. For example, how did the Daleks know that the Doctor would turn up in 1966? (they have a time machine, so I suppose we can let that one go). But the way the Daleks allow Edward Waterfield (John Bailey) to travel from 1866 to 1966 in order to set up an antiques shop selling genuine Victoriana is a little harder to swallow.

It’s an incredibly elaborate way to bait the trap – although it does create an intriguing mystery (quickly solved though) about Waterfield. He’s a man with a courteous, florid way of talking who doesn’t understand even the most familiar of modern slang (as well as occasionally making the odd conversational stumble – referring to cabs as hansom cabs, for example).

Bailey is excellent throughout the story. He was the sort of actor who suffered exquisitely well, and that’s just as well since Waterfield’s got a lot on his plate (he’s an unwilling ally of the Daleks, only cooperating with them because they are holding his daughter Victoria hostage).

Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject of early plotholes, why does a Dalek travel back to Waterfield’s antiques shop in 1966? It’s to provide a decent cliffhanger at the end of episode one and exterminate the troublesome Kennedy (Griffith Davies) but in story terms there’s really no reason.

The 1966 setting of the first episode and a half is worthwhile in one way though – the sudden jolt felt after the Doctor and Jamie are gassed and wake up in 1866 is a more than decent twist.

They find themselves in the home of Theodore Maxtible (Marius Goring), a man who posseses an imposing beard and the habit of declaiming portentously at the drop of a hat. A decade or so earlier, Goring and Troughton were cast as allies in The Scarlet Pimpernel, but Maxtible and the Doctor have a far stickier relationship.

It’s often been commented upon, but why does Maxtible own a portrait of Waterfield’s dead wife? There’s clearly a subplot here to which we’re not privy.

The move to 1866 introduces us to a number of new characters in addition to Maxtible. There’s Mollie Dawson (Jo Rowbottom), Maxtible’s saucepot of a maid for one. The way that Mollie closes the door with her bottom when she first appears and the conspiratorial glances she puts Jamie’s way are evidence of this. Presumably this was Rowbottom doing her best to make something out of a fairly routine role (if so, she certainly caught the eye).

Brigit Forsyth is more restrained as Maxtible’s daughter, Ruth whilst Deborah Watling also makes her debut in the second episode as Waterfield’s daughter, Victoria. Why the Daleks decide to hold her hostage in Maxtible’s house rather than Ruth is another of those plot mysteries that we’re not going to get an answer for.

Watling’s screentime in episode two is pretty brief although we discover that she likes to feed the birds but hasn’t been eating herself (that the Daleks seem concerned about her weightloss and insist that they will force feed her if she doesn’t start tucking in is another of those scenes that’s a slight headscratcher).

Also puzzling is why Arthur Terrall (Gary Watson) pays the roughneck Toby (Windsor Davies) to kidnap Jamie. It later becomes apparent that Terrall is under the control of the Daleks, but since the Daleks and the Doctor need to have Jamie close at hand there seems to be no sense to Terrall’s actions.

The Doctor is forced into an uneasy collaboration with the Daleks (not to mention Waterfield and Maxtible).  This is a fascinating part of the tale – even more so than in his first couple of stories, Troughton’s Doctor is unreadable at this point. Presumably he knows that no real harm will come to Jamie, but he still has no compunction in casually exploiting his friend (although to be fair, it was probably the only option left to him).

With Troughton absent for most of episode four (apart from a handful of pre-filmed inserts) it falls to Jamie and his eventual new chum Kemel (Sonny Caldinez) to carry most of the narrative. Manipulated by the Doctor into rescuing Victoria (which is exactly what the Daleks want, as they plan to analyse his actions in order to locate the “human factor” which they claim their logical minds lack) he first has to battle Kemel.  But after Jamie saves his life, the pair quickly become best buds.

Since Kemel is mute and Jamie no doubt didn’t really feel like talking that much during their fight scenes, a fair amount of the fourth episode soundtrack is comprised of grunts and incidental music. Had we the pictures to go with it then possibly it would be more compelling, but I doubt it would be edge of the seat stuff.

So it’s another of those episodes where a very little plot is dragged out a very long way (given that the story was a seven-parter this isn’t too surprising). So you have to take your incidental pleasures where you can – Waterfield growing ever more hysterical and Maxtible ever more ruthless for example, or the continuing erratic behavour of Terrall.

Terrall is Ruth’s finance, and throughout the story she continues to wonder why the man she loves has recently become so erratic. Poor Ruth is only a very lightly sketched character, so we never feel too concerned about her feelings but Gary Watson is given a little more to work with. Watson (a familiar television face during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s) is good value, but Terrall just fades away in episode five and you end up wondering exactly what purpose his character served.

On the plus side though, Terrall and the Doctor share an interesting scene early in episode five. This is partly because it investigates some of Terrall’s oddities (he appears to be full of electricity and hasn’t eaten or drunk anything in ages – both side-effects of the Daleks’ control over him) but also because of the playful way the Doctor attempts to get under his skin.

The scene also contains one of my favourite lines from this or any other DW story. After Terrall comments that the Doctor appears to be a student of human nature, he responds “No, Mr Terrall, I am not a student of human nature. I am a professor of a far wider academy, of which human nature is merely a part”.

Jamie’s disenchantment with the Doctor, later the same episode, is a powerful moment.

JAMIE: No, Doctor. Look, I’m telling you this. You and me, we’re finished. You’re just too callous for me. Anything goes by the board. Anything at all.
DOCTOR: That’s just not true, Jamie. I’ve never held that the end justifies the means.
JAMIE: Och, words. What do I care about words? You don’t give that much for a living soul except yourself.

Unfortunately the impact is negated when, just a few lines later, Jamie becomes best friends with the Doctor again. But you can understand there’s no time for the Doctor and Jamie to have a tiff, as the story – having proceeded at a sluggish pace for a while – now begins to pick up momentum. With the human factor now isolated thanks to Jamie’s unwitting efforts, the Doctor implants it into three Daleks.

There then follows several scenes which are worth the price of admission alone. The human factor has made these three Daleks – christened Alpha, Beta and Omega by the Doctor – into friendly and benign creatures, happy to play with the Doctor (“dizzy, dizzy, Doctor”) and totally accepting that he and Jamie are their friends.

If the Daleks have been, to date, far less interesting or developed as characters in Evil than they were in Power, then these moments help to redress the balance a little.  And as time goes on, we begin to understand why the Doctor was so keen to co-operate – Daleks with a conscience would begin to question and eventually (so the Doctor hopes) cause insurrection.

The Doctor, Jamie, Maxtible, Waterfield, Kemel and Victoria all make the trip to Skaro. And there’s a treat in store when the Doctor, Jamie and Waterfield are brought into the august presence of the Dalek Emperor. Only fragmentary footage still exists of the Emperor, but – along with the booming voice – it’s hard not to feel a slight sense of awe.

It almost (but not quite) makes up for some of the serial’s more wayward plotting ….

The Doctor’s confidence that the human factor will see the downfall of the Daleks takes a battering after the Emperor tells him that he wants the Doctor to implant the Dalek factor (“to obey, to fight, to destroy, to exterminate”) throughout Earth’s history. Why can’t the Daleks do it themselves though? Since they have time travel capability, there seems no reason why not.

Civil war begins to brew on Skaro after the Doctor manages to reprocess a whole batch of Daleks with the human factor (once again, the Daleks – and the Emperor especially – should have been a little more cautious about the Doctor’s offer of help). And why does the human factor make the Daleks regress to a seeming childhood state?

On the other side of the coin, Maxtible becomes the first human processed with the Dalek Factor. This allows Goring to go even further over the top (only the recovery of the episode would allow us to know for sure just how stratospheric he actually was). Interestingly, he doesn’t receive his comeuppance (even after killing poor Kemel). The last we see of him he’s still stomping around Skaro, so there’s always the possibility he survived (maybe there’s some fiction out there which developed this notion – given some of the rum stuff that’s been produced over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised).

The Doctor proclaims that the Daleks have met their final end. That didn’t turn out to be the case (they only took a short break of five years). But since Terry Nation in 1967 wasn’t keen for the Daleks to be used again, it very well might have been – so Whitaker certainly gave them an impressive send off.

And with Waterfield dead, the orphan Victoria finds a new home with Jamie and the Doctor ….

Deborah Watling’s had very little to do throughout the story, so Victoria has struggled to make an impact. But hopefully the character will begin to be developed in the stories ahead.

There’s an awful lot to process throughout The Evil of the Daleks‘ seven episodes. It features strong performances (although Goring does err on the hammy side at times), some standout scenes (“dizzy, dizzy, Daleks”) and another fine central performance from Troughton.

It’s also well worth mentioning that it was the final time Peter Hawkins provided the voices of the Daleks. It’s sometimes easy to assume that anyone with a ring modulator can voice the Daleks, but that’s not so – there’s a viciousness and menace to Hawkins’ Daleks that we’ll rarely hear again,

A tip of the hat too to Roy Skelton who was making his Dalek voice debut. If Hawkins was the gold medal standard then I’ve always been more than happy to put Skelton in silver medal position.

To conclude, I’ll give Evil 3.5 TARDISes out of 5. It’s very good, but it’s not quite great.

Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones

The Faceless Ones is a key story in several respects. Firstly, it sees Malcolm Hulke (co-writing with David Ellis) finally get a Doctor Who script onto the screen. Secondly, the Troughton/Hines double-act really begins to kick into gear ….

Apart from a brief reappearance at the end of the story, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze were written out after the second episode.  Their absence means that Troughton and Hines are required to fill the gap – something they manage very comfortably. Along the way they chuck in various bits of business which more than likely were worked out during rehearsals.

For example, in episode one the Doctor has to give the garrulous Jamie several none too subtle kicks in order to stop him from spilling the beans about the TARDIS whilst in episode two the pair – now hunted fugitives at Gatwick airport – hide behind newspapers, although Jamie’s is held upside down!

It doesn’t sound that much, but these are the sort of touches that time and again we’ll see from the pair over the next few years.  Sometimes they can be self-indulgent, but mostly they’re just nice little moments which often help to perk up a flagging script.

Today’s story is pretty decent, although since it’s a six-parter there’s going to be times when things get a little quiet, so a spot of Troughton/Hines interaction will always be welcome.

The setting – Gatwick Airport – also helps to keep the interest levels up. It’s worth remembering that this sort of thing was still a novelty in the series. After The War Machines, The Faceless Ones was only the second DW story to be entirely set in a bustling modern-day environment.

You can’t quibble with the guest cast either. Colin Gordon is perfectly cast as the Commandant – a weary airport boss who initially finds it impossible to believe the Doctor’s tale of finding a dead body in the Chameleon Tours hangar (although by the final episode he’s become an unlikely ally). It’s not really that fascinating a part, but Gordon was the type of professional able to wring every last drop of exasperation from the role.

Donald Pickering, typecast as usual, is icily evil as Blade, Chameleon Tour’s chief pilot, Bernard Kay adopts a pipe and Scottish accent as the avuncular Inspector Crossland whilst Wanda Ventham doesn’t have a great deal to do, but she’s always going to catch the eye.

If Ventham’s role (as Jean Rock) is fairly forgettable then at least one female guest character gets a good crack of the whip – Pauline Collins as Samantha Briggs. As legend has it, Collins was offered the companion role but turned it down.

In retrospect, I think we dodged a bullet there. It’s impossible to know for sure and had she stayed then the character might have settled down, but I do find Sam to be more than a little irritating. Perhaps Collins was trying just too hard – she’d later reprise her Liverpudlian accent for the first series of The Liver Birds, but here everything just seems too forced.

Given that under Innes Lloyd’s watch we’d already had a cockney companion (Ben) who tapped into the swinging sixties zeitgeist that had seen the emergence of (amongst others) Michael Caine, maybe it’s no surprise that a year later it was felt that, given the ongoing success of the Beatles, a Mersey companion would also be the ticket.

But since the Merseybeat era was long over by 1967, maybe it was a good idea this wasn’t followed through. Post Ben and Polly, most 20th century DW companions turn out to be fairly timeless figures (the groovy Jo is probably the one most rooted in her own time) which helps not to tie them to a specific era. I mean, there’s plenty of other things which date the stories, but at least the companions weren’t often designed as bandwagon-jumping clichés …

Before Polly vanishes at the end of episode two she’s given a handful of effective scenes. Having witnessed a murder in the Chameleon hangar, she’s abducted and apparently brainwashed (the Doctor and Jamie later meet a young woman who appears to be Polly but doesn’t recognise them).  The truth is even more disturbing though – all the time that the faux Polly has been running about, the real one has been locked up in a packing case, unable to move.

Polly’s fate helps to tease out the main crux of the plot. The faceless aliens of the title are taking over the identities and faces of unwilling human hosts.  And whilst the humans are reduced to lifeless dummies (you can imagine from this how the first draft of the story – set in a department store – could have worked out) the aliens now have movement and freedom again (prior to the transference they appear to be in agony and barely alive).

When you start to dig into the plot a little deeper – Chameleon Tours organise foreign trips for young people who are then abducted, taken into space and used as hosts – everything slightly falls apart. Sam (concerned about her missing brother) seems to be one of the few people to have twigged that plane-loads of people have been vanishing on a regular basis.

Other parts of the plot remain opaque as well. Exactly how the horribly scarred aliens are able to ‘grow’ a face identical to their human host within a matter of minutes isn’t made clear. And why are they now replacing key personnel at Gatwick? Given that the game must nearly be up, it seems something of a waste of time (and although they’re shown to have infiltrated key posts, they never seem to do anything except the jobs their human hosts are paid to do).

Dialogue wise, things can be fairly clunky – the Doctor mentions ‘ray guns’ with a straight face whilst Blade (also playing it straight) is gifted lines like “you Earth men are more use to us alive” to the unfortunate Crossland, after he finds himself an unwilling passenger on a very special Chameleon Tours flight.

Although in the interests of fairness, I did enjoy Blade’s comment of “I don’t think it’ll reach where you’re going” in response to Crossland’s warning that the long arm of the British law would be after them.

The Chameleons are the survivors of a non-specific catastrophe on their home planet and require 50,000 humans (that’s an awful lot of charter flights). By the final episode they seem to have acquired their quota and are all set to toddle off home, before the Doctor manages to negotiate an acceptable solution to all.

Despite the fact that the Chameleons regard humans with contempt (“the intelligence of Earth people is comparable only to that of animals on our planet”) and have been responsible for several deaths, he’s happy to let them go free provided they return all the humans to Earth.

This is either another plot oddity or it’s maybe, just maybe, an early example of Malcolm Hulke’s unique Doctor Who worldview. His later stories, the Pertwee ones especially, rarely painted its villains as entirely bad – they tended to be motivated by a range of emotions (fear, pride, greed) rather than simply being evil for evil’s sake. So maybe the Doctor (despite the evidence to the contrary) decides that in time the Chameleons might find a solution to their problem which won’t involve the mass kidnapping of other species.

Hopefully so, because otherwise there’s nothing to stop them visiting another planet and starting all over again ….

So, apart from a nice tag scene with Ben and Polly bidding the Doctor and Jamie a slightly tearful goodbye, that’s that. There’s a lot to enjoy in these six episodes – especially with Troughton leading from the front – but since the story feels a few drafts away from being watertight I can only give it a fairly average 3 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror

There was clearly something in the air back in 1967. Predating The Prisoner by several months, The Macra Terror – an everyday tale of brainwashing and control set in a seemingly idyllic paradise – certainly seemed to be tapping into the general sense of unease that Patrick McGoohan was also feeling.

In a way, it’s easy to see certain parallels with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, although The Macra Terror swops grime and despair for a glossy utopia where drum majorettes are always in action, meaningless platitudes (“Nothing succeeds like success. If at first you don’t succeed –  try, try, try again!”) are endlessly trotted out and everyone wanders around with a smile on their face. Which of course, feels deeply disturbing.

At first, Ben and Polly see nothing wrong with this – they dive into the world of the Colony with enthusiasm, so it’s left to Jamie and the Doctor to be more cautious. It’s easy to understand why the Doctor, given his experience, isn’t prepared to accept anything at face value but Jamie’s a different matter.  This is a good move though, as it helps to flesh out his character (which in the preceding three stories has only been lightly sketched).

A number of familiar faces guest star. Peter Jeffrey as the Pilot is, as you’d expect, first rate as the man who looks after the day-to-day running of the Colony. If Jeffrey’s Pilot has the practiced slick skill of a politician, then Gertan Klauber’s Ola (the Chief of Police) is his diametric opposite – he’s the one who has to catch any miscreants and ensure they have the treatment they need.

One such miscreant is Medok (Terence Lodge) whom the Doctor and his friends meet at the beginning of episode one. Later the Pilot tells the Doctor what Medok’s fate will be.

PILOT: Oh, well, he’ll be taken back to the hospital for correction. He’ll be given another course of treatment. And when he returns to the Colony, Medok will be a changed man. He will cooperate and he will obey orders. He’ll be just like the rest of us.

DOCTOR: Why do you want everyone to be the same?

PILOT: Doctor, this Colony was founded many centuries ago by our ancestors who came from the Earth planet, like your young friends. Our ancestors believed in the virtues of healthy happiness and we have tried to keep their ideals alive. Sometimes, alas, it is necessary to use force.

The parallels with The Prisoner are obvious, and whilst it’s plain that, given the timescale, there’s no way that The Prisoner could have been directly influenced by The Macra Terror, it’s still interesting that both are pushing very similar buttons (but no doubt if one were to dig through the film and television archives of this era you’d find similar, earlier, examples of the same thing).

As seen in the dialogue quote above, the Doctor, even more than usual, is positioned as an individual – resisting any attempt to make him conform. This is expressed in the script in both humorous ways (in the first episode he reacts with horror when a machine tidies up his clothes and hair) and more dramatic ones (in episode two he tells Polly that “it’s just possible that you’ve been given a series of orders while you’ve been asleep. You know, do this, do that, do the other thing. My advice to you is don’t do anything of the sort. Don’t just be obedient. Always make up your own mind”).

Ben, Polly and Jamie are all subjected to deep sleep adjustment. A calming voice (“the sleeper must relax and believe. Everything in the Colony is good and beautiful. You must accept it without question. You must obey orders”) is piped through to their quarters but Ben is the only one to succumb. This allows Michael Craze to act evil for a change (and gives him something more to do than usual – with three companions all jockeying for position there have been times recently when one or more has ended up quite redundant).

The monsters of the tale – crab-like baddies called Macra – tend to lurk in the shadows. This is understandable since they must have been incredibly unwieldy (anyone who wants to escape from them just has to walk away at a moderate pace). Once again we have to thank the Australian censors whose squeamishness has preserved several short clips for us to enjoy. They show the Macra in all their slow moving glory (though to be honest it’s hard to imagine them giving that many people sleepless nights – unless they have a crab phobia).

Medok’s role in the story is an interesting one. As the only Colony member who seems to know the truth about the Macra, you’d assume that he would play a key role in overcoming them. But this isn’t the case – he’s rather casually killed off in episode three and no-one seems to notice or care that much.

By this point, Jamie’s lost in the mines and tangling with the Macra (in scenes that tend to go on a little), Ben’s beginning to fight against his processing (some more good work from Craze here) whilst the Doctor and Polly team up at the gas refinery to cause as much confusion as possible.  Troughton and Wills bounce off each other very agreeably in these scenes, indeed it’s at this point that you realise they haven’t really shared that many scenes together and since Polly’s time is nearly up, they won’t do so again ….

Ian Stuart Black delights in giving Troughton a number of lines that perfectly sum up his Doctor (“Confusion is best left to the experts” and “I can stand an operation on its head quicker than anyone” to name but two).

Also of interest is the moment when the Pilot confronts the Doctor, who has been entertaining himself by scrawling an impossibly complex series of calculations on the wall. “You’re not asking me to believe that in a few moments you have been able to work out a formula which it has taken our combined computers years to perfect?”

The Doctor has, of course, done just that and it serves as a reminder that – erratic as he may appear – he still possesses a keen scientific brain.

When the Doctor later shows the Pilot that the Macra are the ones in control he’s shocked and stunned. This raises an intriguing point – is it only the rank and file workers who undergo mind control? Since the Pilot immediately agrees to join forces with the Doctor to destroy the Macra, I would assume so. Ola probably also has free will – he continues to toe the party line but presumably only because he’s a sadist who sees nothing wrong with the status quo.

All in all this is a story that’s rich in incidental detail, even if the main plot is quite straightforward and (to be honest) not that interesting. With the Macra only able to provide the occasional scare, the actors – both regulars and guest cast – are required to keep things ticking along, which they do nicely.

Troughton especially is on great form and Peter Jeffrey doesn’t disappoint, although it’s a shame that the Pilot only has a handful of scenes in the second half of the story. John Harvey (as Officia), returning for his second Ian Stuart Black story, is another dependable performer who has a little more to do here than in The War Machines.

A bit of a run around then, but it rates a healthy 3.5 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – The Moonbase

Some four months after making their debut, the Cyberman – having undergone a radical makeover – are back …

In some ways, The Moonbase is a retread of The Tenth Planet. The action once again takes place in an isolated base under siege (last time it was in Antarctica, now it’s on the Moon – and you can’t get much more isolated than that) run by a male-only group who hail from a variety of counties (although once again there’s no room for those pesky Russians).

But there are differences too. Hobson (Patrick Barr), the base commander, is an amiable old soul – even when he’s acting all stern you get the feeling that his bark’s far worse than his bite. The fact his men call him “Hobby” to his face is evidence of this.

By this time a very familiar face both in British films and on television, Barr is one of The Moonbase’s major strengths. Sadly most of his team of scientists remain pretty anonymous (the way they regularly keep getting picked off by the Cybermen doesn’t help of course). One exception is André Maranne as Benoit, Hobson’s second in command. He’s not really that well drawn a character, but given Maranne’s extensive career you can’t help but have a residual well of affection for him.

It’s worth remembering that when the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie set foot on the Moon (in 1967) they were two years ahead of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. But although that part of the story would change from science fiction to science fact, Moonbases – despite what Moonbase 3 (1973) and Star Cops (1987) would later tell us – are still just a sci-fi concept. Still, maybe one day that’ll change ….

As I’ve said, Hobson is a surprisingly placid character. Showing little surprise or interest when the Doctor and his friends suddenly appear, he’s content to give them the run of the base (even though Moonbase has suddenly been struck by a mystery illness). There’s some inconsistency with the timing here – in episode one we’re told that the first case only happened a few hours before the Doctor arrived, but by episode two it’s become two weeks.

We know the Cybermen are behind it, but the story – despite only being a four-parter – is content to eke out the suspense. In episode one the Cybermen mostly only appear in silhouette (judging by the telesnaps, quite effectively so) whilst by episode two they’ve grown a little bolder although they’ve still yet to utter a word.

Compared to their terribly verbose brothers in The Tenth Planet this is an obvious difference.

The Moonbase has often been seen as the story where Troughton’s Doctor settles down and loses many of his earlier eccentricities. His short speech in episode two (“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought”) is often quoted in support of this, although it’s worth remembering that he was equally adamant that the Daleks had to be fought in Power of the Daleks.

But it’s true that he’s proactive and keen to find a reason for the base’s mystery illness (even though he fails to do so). Eventually the reason – the Cybermen have been doing something nasty to the sugar – comes to light. Hmm, this is an odd sort of plot point (the latest victim keels over very, very dramatically seconds after drinking his coffee – if this sort of thing happened to everyone else, why wasn’t it commented upon?)

Mind you, that plot niggle pales into insignificance after you’re invited to accept that the Cybermen come and go with ease from the Moonbase via a large hole they’ve made in the outer wall. I’m no expert, but wouldn’t that cause a little bit of decompression? Apparently not, as all the Cybermen have to do is stack some bags against the wall and voila! it’s as good as new.

Given that Kit Pedler (along with an uncredited Gerry Davis) was on scripting duty, it’s an odd moment. Especially since at other times Pedler’s rigorous scientific voice is heard loud and clear (for example, Hobson and the others check the misfunctioning Gravitron during episode two in a scene which feels accurate, if deadly dull).

The Gravitron, a device for controlling Earth’s weather, seems to be the main reason why the Moonbase exists. The way the Earth-based controller reacts so negatively when it’s suggested that it’s turned off for a while makes me suppose that Earth’s weather has deteriorated so badly by 2070 that there would be numerous catastrophes without it.

When the Cybermen turn up in force at the start of episode three they finally spill the beans about their masterplan. It’s to use the Gravitron to destroy all life on Earth. Not in revenge for the destruction of Mondas (oh no) but simply because they fear that Earth might one day be a rival. Since everyone on Earth seems to have forgotten about them that’s a little odd, but no odder than the rest of the story I suppose.

Episode three is where we hear the new Cyber voices for the first time. Less comic than in The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen now prefer to talk in staccato sentences with few wasted words (although at one point they mention “stupid Earth brains” and patronisingly follow this up with “clever, clever, clever” which sits rather uncomfortably alongside their more direct dialogue elsewhere).

The second half of the story meanders somewhat. Highlights include Ben and Jamie almost coming to blows over Polly (this moment of sexual tension passes quickly though) and the trio going Cyberman hunting with a lethal cocktail that doesn’t do the Cybermen’s chest units any good at all.

The Moonbase climaxes with the Gravitron being used to send the Cybermen flying off into space. This sort of ending, which happened from time to time (see also The Dominators) always rather irritated me. Just because this group of Cybermen have been defeated, why shouldn’t a back-up force be dispatched immediately? The Doctor clearly doesn’t think so, as he’s very keen to get back to the TARDIS and begin his next adventure, so we’ll just have to hope that Hobson has no trouble from now on.

If so inclined, you really can pick the plot of The Moonbase apart but I can’t shake off my love for it. Partly because it looks pretty impressive but mostly it’s due to the fact that Doctor Who and the Cybermen was one of the earliest Doctor Who novelisations I read, which means that the story (even the very silly bits) will always have a place in my heart. 4 TARDISes out of 5 then.

Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace

When it was announced some years ago that Airlock (the third episode of Galaxy 4) and The Underwater Menace episode two had been recovered, the news was met with polite indifference in some quarters. Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace, along with The Space Pirates, have to be amongst the most unloved missing/or partly missing Doctor Who stories.

This point of view is a bad one of course, as the return of any previously missing episode should always be cherished (especially as returns have been so thin on the ground since 2013). Now that half of The Underwater Menace exists, there’s no doubt that it’s gone up in my estimation.

I mean it’s still a very silly story, but it’s nice to see moving pictures now and again ….

But before we can get back to those moving pictures, there’s still the first episode to tackle. The Tenth Planet 4 to The Underwater Menace 1 means a run of twelve consecutive episodes existing in audio form only. But looking on the positive side, we’ll never have a longer streak to “enjoy” again.

As the episode opens, Jamie’s still suffering from a mild attack of culture shock, but it’s glossed over fairly quickly (partly no doubt because he’d been hurriedly written into the script at the last minute). I’m sure the location filming would have been nice, but since we can’t see it there’s not a great deal to get the pulse racing in the first ten minutes or so (save the Doctor’s glorious unspoken wish for “prehistoric monsters”).

It’s only when the four time-travellers are captured and taken underground to what turns out to be the lost city of Atlantis that the plot begins to kick into gear.

Any time I see a collection of primitive types wearing funny hats who enjoy chanting and sacrificing people, my heart sinks a little. They will become a familiar Doctor Who sight, although it’s funny how they tend to appear in the less impressive stories (like Power of Kroll, say).

As often happens, religion gets a pretty rough ride – later it’s strongly implied that anybody who worships Amdo is both foolish and easily manipulated. Normally you’d expect then to be told that it’s best to place your faith in science. Not so in this story though, especially once you’ve met the scientist in resident …

The Doctor manages to save his friends from a grisly sacrificial death after realising that the brilliant but quite loony Professor Zaroff (Joseph Furst) now lives in Atlantis (the Doctor does this after tasting a delicious meal of plankton). Yes I know that little bit of deduction sounds thin, but you’re just going to have to accept that the plotting of this story is (ironically, given its location under the sea) less than watertight at times.

Much has been written about Furst’s performance. I’ve little to add, except to say that Zaroff’s pop-eyed madness wasn’t his normal stock in trade (check out his appearances in Armchair TheatreA Magnum for Schneider or Callan A Village Called G for the sort of subtle performances he normally gave).

Zaroff is cautiously pleased to welcome the Doctor as a fellow scientist and is happy to explain his plan for raising Atlantis from the bottom of the ocean. This will mean destroying the world, but that’s just an incidental point …

Episode two provides us with our earliest opportunity to see Troughton in action and he doesn’t disappoint. As Furst continues to chew any scenery within reach, Troughton is calm and subdued when playing opposite him (it’s this contrast which helps to make their scenes together so effective).

Elsewhere, Polly has regressed to a helpless damsel in distress. True, I wouldn’t fancy being turned into a Fish Person either, but she shows little of the pluck displayed throughout The Highlanders. Colin Jeavons (one of those actors never really used well by the series – this and K9 & Company are both lesser chips off the block) skulks around as Damon, a man intent on turning Polly into a little fishy.

And then there’s Peter Stephens (last seen in The Celestial Toymaker) camping it up as Lolem whilst Tom Watson, despite his silly hat, maintains an air of dignity at all times as Ramo. Catherine Howe does her best with the character of Ara but it’s really a paper-thin one. Like Tom Watson and Colin Jeavons, Noel Johnson is a good actor wasted in a nothing role (at least he’d have a chance to redeem himself later in Invasion of the Dinosaurs). P.G. Stephens and Paul Anil round off the main cast as Sean and Jacko, a couple of cheeky-chappie mineworkers who team up with Ben and Jamie in order to effect a staggeringly easy break from captivity.

Watching episodes two and three back to back, you can’t help but wonder if the story’s reputation would have been higher had episode two been the one to have initially escaped the mass purgings. It’s certainly true that episode three is pretty heavy going – with only some more of the Doctor’s disguises (he favours the gypsy look today) and the remarkable underwater ballet moves of the Fish People (to the strains of Dudley Simpson’s electronic score) standing out.

The Underwater Menace is a good early example of the way this Doctor seemingly bumbles around for a solution to any problem. First he decides that inciting the Fish People to go on strike will do the trick (although at least he’s honest enough to confess shortly afterwards that he’s not quite sure what this will achieve). The Fish People catch all the food eaten in Atlantis, so their withdrawal of labour is going to have serious consequences (since there’s no way to stop the food going rotten within hours).

Zaroff may be one of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen, but inventing a fridge or freezer was clearly beyond him.

This plan, which achieves nothing in story terms, only serves as an interlude before the Doctor then declares that Zaroff can only be stopped if they flood the lower levels of Atlantis. This appears to be a rather drastic solution to the problem (some loss of life will be inevitable) but the Doctor blithely carries on anyway.

Given this, when Ben later has to pretend that the Doctor is his prisoner, his comment to a guard (“Well, blimey, look at him. He ain’t normal, is he?”) has more than a ring of truth about it.

Polly’s at her weakest and whiniest during the second half of the story. It’s a remarkable regression for her character, but hopefully she’ll be more like her old self next time.

Zaroff’s monomania starts to get a little wearying by the final episode and it’s impossible not to heave a sigh of relief once he gets swallowed up by the sea. I’ll sum up by giving this story 3 TARDISes out of 5 (a large chunk of that is down to how entertaining episode two is – without it, the mark would have been a little lower).

Doctor Who – The Highlanders

And so we bid farewell to the historical story (at least until 1982 when they made a brief and unexpected comeback). The historicals might account for many of the best stories during the Hartnell era, but by late 1966 their time was up.

Innes Lloyd was not a fan. As producer, one of his chief aims was to push the ratings up again and the historical tales always seemed to be less popular than the science fiction stories. Whether that’s true or not is a debate for another time, but it’s true that some of the later Hartnell ones did pull in very low AI figures.

A Doctor Who story set in 1746 immediately after the Battle of Culloden seems unlikely Saturday tea-time fare. True, when the story begins the violence is over but there’s still a grisly picture painted in the dialogue. The Doctor, Ben and Polly are taken for “camp followers to the Duke of Cumberland, come to steal from the dead” whilst we’re told shortly afterwards that the “English troopers gave no quarter to men, women and bairns”.

The Highlanders episode one continues where The Power of the Daleks left off – by depicting human nature at its worst. The English are either corrupt (Solicitor Grey) or callous and indifferent to the suffering around them (Lt. Algernon Ffinch).

Falling in with a small group of Highland refugees, Ben and the Doctor are set to be hanged, along with young Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) and the ailing Laird (Donald Bissett) whilst Polly hides out in the heather with the Laird’s daughter, Kirsty (Hannah Gordon).

Aye, it’s time to say hello to Jamie. Although since he makes very little impression throughout the story it’s hard to see why it was decided to make him a TARDIS regular (presumably Hines’ off-screen personality helped).

Solicitor Grey, serving King George as his Commissioner of Prisons, has established a profitable sideline by selling healthy prisoners to Captain Trask (Dallas Cavell) who will ship them overseas to work and die as plantation slaves. Cavell’s performance is an extraordinary one – if you remember Tony Hancock’s impression of Robert Newton as Long John Silver you’ll get the general idea.

David Garth’s turn as Solicitor Grey is thankfully a lot more restrained and he forms a nice double act with Sydney Arnold as Perkins, his very put-upon clerk. Hannah Gordon snivels a lot to begin with, but at least her Scottish accent is good. And since Kirsty is something of a wet lettuce in the early episodes, it allows Polly to be more forthright than she’s been for a while.

Somewhat sidelined during Power of the Daleks, Polly is more active during The Highlanders. Not content to sit around moping, she quickly attempts to break the Doctor and Ben out of jail – casually manipulating the hapless Ffinch (Michael Elwyn, another actor who’s an asset to the production).

If the first episode is full of implied horror, then the tone begins to lighten in episode two. The Doctor, masquerading as a German, manages not only to bamboozle Grey but then, after bashing Perkins’ head against the table several times, manages to convince him that he’s got a headache! The comedy continues when the Doctor disguises himself as a washerwoman ….

This all helps to reinforce the obvious fact that the new owner of the TARDIS is very different from the old one.

A quick commentary about the Doctor’s German accent. Troughton was never really known for being a man of a thousand voices (the voice he later uses for Salamander in The Enemy of the World is pretty much his one-size fits all swarthy foreign accent). So is the Doctor’s German accent supposed to be deliberately bad or was Troughton doing his very best? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

The Culloden setting only serves as window dressing for The Highlanders. A debate about its rights and wrongs was clearly felt to be outside of the series’ parameters, although the script does make the effort to be negative about both sides. The English (corrupt butchers) come off worse but the Scottish aren’t exempt from the odd brickbat – at one point the Doctor mutters “romantic piffle” after flinging aside a Jacobite bonnet inscribed with some flowery words whilst Jamie implies that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s early departure from the battlefield was a sign of cowardice.

Along with the Doctor’s dressing up (later he also masquerades as an English soldier) and his various accents (none of them convincing), he also continues to use his new catchphrase – “I would like a hat like that”. It pops up twice in The Highlanders having debuted in The Power of the Daleks.  Luckily all these idiosyncrasies, along with his stove pipe hat, were soon to phased out ….

With the story unable or unwilling to tackle the political and social realities of the time, The Highlanders somewhat devolves into a swashbuckling tale of derring-do.  It’s entertaining enough – the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Kirsty incite armed rebellion aboard Trask’s ship which ensures that the Scottish survivors are free to set sail for a new life in France – but (as was common with historical stories) you do tend to feel that the story could have easily played out just as well had the Doctor not been there.

Even Grey’s arrest by Ffinch feels a little contrived – I suspect that, given all we’ve seen so far, the solicitor will be able to buy himself out of trouble.

If we could actually see it, maybe it would rise a little in my affection but at present I can only give it a solid but unspectacular 3 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – Power of the Daleks

Doctor Who wasn’t the first television programme forced to recast a leading actor, but it was unusual that the change was commented upon within the series. Normally the audience would have just have to accept (or not) the recast and things would hopefully carry on as normal.

It doesn’t seem that having someone impersonate Hartnell was ever an option though – indeed, Troughton’s Doctor seems to revel in his differences. In the first episode the new Doctor is very playful – enjoying a tootle on his recorder whilst dancing a merry jig are two things you’d find it hard to imagine the Hartnell version ever doing.

It seems logical that David Whitaker returned to script this key story. Few people understood the genesis of the series as well as Whitaker – and this was important since briefly Doctor Who reset itself back to November 1963.

Back then, as now in November 1966, the Doctor is presented as an unknowable and mysterious figure whose thought processes are oblique. This means that his companions (now Ben and Polly, then Ian and Barbara) are the audience identification figures, which is a sharp reversal from the later Hartnell episodes which portrayed the Doctor as a fairly predictable figure.

Things kick off in part one rather oddly. Although Ben and Polly witnessed the Doctor’s transformation at the end of The Tenth Planet, Ben now struggles to accept that this stranger really is the Doctor. The way the Doctor now refers to himself in the third person (“the Doctor was a great collector, wasn’t he?”) and seems reluctant to answer a direct question only fuels his feeling of wariness.

Polly is quicker to trust him, but it’s not until episode two that the trio really begin to function as a unit, once they (and no doubt the audience) begin to understand that there’s method in the Doctor’s madness.

Kicking off with a Dalek story made good sense. And with Terry Nation unavailable, having Whitaker write it was also a sensible move as he’d written more about the Daleks than even Nation had – the TV21 comic strip, the first novelisation, The Curse of the Daleks stage play, etc.

Whitaker’s take on the characters was markedly different from Nation’s though. This would generate some friction in later years, with Nation commenting that he didn’t enjoy this story (feeling that the Daleks had been presented as too servile, which robbed them of their impact).

This criticism is slightly baffling and suggests that Nation hadn’t really studied the story in any detail. The plot of The Power of the Daleks revolves around the notion that since the Daleks are powerless to begin. patience is required from them.

In Nation’s scripts, the Daleks tended to be modelled on remorseless Nazi stormtroopers, blasting any and all opposition. Here this isn’t an option, so instead they pretend to be docile servants of the humans. It’s a long time before they speak, but their first words (“I am your servant”) repeated again and again at the end of the second episode casts a chill.

Even the later sight of a Dalek carrying a drinks tray – ostensibly the perfect servant – doesn’t really raise a smile as it’s undercut by the knowledge that eventually the Daleks will turn on their foolish human “masters”. The re-use of several of Tristram Cary’s music cues from the first Dalek story also helps in generating an oppressive atmosphere.

The Earth colony of Vulcan is a hot-bed of intrigue and revolt. The Governor, Hensall (Peter Bathurst), is attempting to maintain order whilst his second in command – Quinn (Nicholas Hawtry) – struggles to be kept in the loop. Bragen (Bernard Archard) is responsible for the base’s security and stalks the corridors following his own agenda whilst Lesterson (Robert James) is the scientist blinded to the danger that the Daleks pose. And it’s best to keep an eye on Lesterson’s assistant Janley (Pamela Ann Davey), who isn’t all she seems ….

There’s a lot to process within this diverse group of characters, so for once the six-part format feels just about right. The Power of the Daleks is one of those stories where every actor seems to be pulling their weight. Bernard Archard always had a sense of stillness and menace and even though we can’t see him, I think it’s likely that he was delivering. Peter Bathurst, later to reappear in a less rewarding role in The Claws of Axos, also gets a decent crack of the whip but the plum role has to be that of Robert James as the doomed Lesterston.

The misguided scientist is a familiar one in Doctor Who, but Lesterson is a particularly tragic case. He doesn’t seem to be motivated by personal glory or wealth, instead he simply sees the Daleks as a pliant labour-saving work force whose assistance will benefit everyone. But although he initially dismisses the Doctor’s warnings, over the course of the serial’s middle two episodes he slowly begins to understand their true nature. But by then he’s in too deep – not only pushed around by the increasingly confident Daleks but also manipulated by the cold-hearted Janley.

In an era when strong female guest roles were pretty thin on the ground, Pamela Ann Davy’s performance stands out (it’s noticeable though that she’s the only woman in the colony to be given a speaking role). Revealed to be in collusion with Bragen, the pair are plotting to take over the colony (with Janley pretending to assist the rebels in order that they can dispose of Hensall).

Unlike Polly, who has somewhat reverted to a damsel in distress (kidnaped and held captive for an episode, although this was a plot device to give Anneke Wills a week off) Janley is shown to be well able to run rings around her male counterparts. Although quite what she’s getting out of Bragen’s take-over is never quite made clear.

I love the scenes of black comedy featuring the Daleks in the middle episodes. For example, when one delivers a drink to Bragen and then returns a few minutes later asking if he’s finished or the way another Dalek has to bite its tongue after Lesterton tells it that it has an almost human interest and curiosity (all its willpower is required for it not to tell Lesterson that the Daleks are far superior!)

Unlike the slapstick scenes in The Chase, these moments don’t undermine the Daleks – instead they help to increase the tension that’s been slowly building throughout. And this tension continues at the end of episode four which climaxes with the newly built Daleks rolling off a production line in a nightmarish cliffhanger.

That’s also the point of the story where Lesterton finally loses his grip on reality. Robert James certainly doesn’t hold back at this point (offhand, I can’t think of many other performances of madness throughout the history of the series that are quite as extreme as this – even Graham Crowden’s cherished turn in The Horns of Nimon pales into insignificance).

Lesterson’s final scenes, in episode six, where he’s now quite calm but also quite mad, can’t help but chill the blood (for example, the way he parrots the Daleks’ oft-repeated “I am your servant” back at them shortly before they exterminate him).

The Power of the Daleks is streaked with cynicism. No previous story has ever displayed quite as jaundiced a viewpoint about the human race. We’re told that Hensall (murdered by the Daleks on Bragen’s instructions) was a good man and his deputy, Quinn, also seems to be on the side of the angels. But the story is really dominated by Bragen, someone who – in his own way – is nearly as ruthless as the Daleks.

Given this, once Bragen has finally murdered his way to the top job, you almost want the Daleks to begin running amok in order to turn his dreams into nightmares. They obligingly do this, although it’s interesting that Bragen dies by a human hand and not a Dalek one.

Although we only have the audio to go on, the massacre by the Daleks in episode six sounds relentless and unpleasant (it certainly makes any Dalek attacks in previous stories feel tame by comparison). That the Doctor defeats them seemingly accidentally is a neat touch – is he really just a lucky bumbler or does he prefer, at present, to keep his intelligence hidden behind a deliberately vague manner?

You couldn’t really ask for any more from Troughton in this one. Although the character of his Doctor has yet to totally emerge, he’s effortlessly established himself as the Doctor by the end of episode six. And with those arch scene-stealers, the Daleks, constantly lurking in the corridors, that’s no mean feat.

Is this the best Dalek story of all time? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. 5 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet

The Tenth Planet is a landmark story for several obvious reasons (it’s the final regular outing for Hartnell’s Doctor and the Cyberman make their first appearance). It also introduces a story type that will become very familiar over the next year or two (base under siege) as well as anticipating the science heavy format of season seven (the numerous scenes of Snowcap personnel attempting to talk down the doomed capsule could have fitted snugly into The Ambassadors of Death, for example).

There’s a lot going on, not least a bullish performance by Robert Beatty as General Cutler. Like several future base under siege commanders, Cutler takes no nonsense (to put it mildly) and as the stakes grow higher his sanity begins to crumble. So by the end of the story he poses as great a danger as the Cybermen (cf Jarvis Bennett in The Wheel in Space).

Beatty’s not only the serial’s leading guest star, he’s pretty much the lead until the beginning of episode four. That means that William Hartnell, in his final story, has been relegated to guest star status in his own series.

As ill health forced him to miss episode three and the last episode is missing, the first two episodes are where we get our final opportunity to see Hartnell in action. And he doesn’t have a great deal to do – the Doctor, Ben and Polly, once they’re brought into the Snowcap base, are largely passive observers.  The Doctor does attempt to share his knowledge with Cutler, but he’s rudely rebuffed and forced to sit on the sidelines.

Ben gets a little bit of action in episode two when he destroys a Cyberman (and is the recipient of some of Hartnell’s lines in episode three) whilst Polly joins the Doctor in attempting to confront the emotionless Cybermen.

Ah yes, the Cybermen. Visually it’s fair to say that they’re unforgettable, although it’s easy to understand why the costume was swiftly amended for later appearances (that lamp on the top of their head must have been very uncomfortable). But although they look rather comic and hastily flung together, there’s also something deeply disturbing about the Cybermen Mk 1 – the voices especially.

Their conversational tone (“that was really most unfortunate. You should not have done that”) is one reason why. Plus when would you ever again hear the Cybermen using the word please? And the scene where their leader stalks around the command centre asking everybody their name and age, etc is another of those odd moments that really stands out.

Kit Pedler seems to stick pretty close to scientific fact during the early Snowcap tracking room scenes. But when Mondas makes its first appearance we’re firmly in the land of science fantasy. Mondas, the twin of Earth, somehow broke free of its orbit and has been zooming around the galaxy for some considerable time. Now the Cybermen have returned (how?) as their planet is dying and they decide that Earth should supply the energy they need.

And as a nice bonus, they’ll take the entire human race over to Mondas and convert them into Cybermen.

Many Cyber stories feature madcap plotlines that make very little sense when you examine them closely, so it’s good to see that The Tenth Planet begins this tradition very securely. Attack of the Cybermen did make a half-hearted attempt to explain how Mondas could move at will, but it’s best not to worry about it too much (after all, the Moon did very much the same thing in Space 1999).

The Snowcap base is a pleasingly international one. The far off setting of 1986 (twenty years in the future) helps to explain this – no doubt it was hoped by then that the world’s top nations would have pooled their resources in order to explore space. Mind you, it’s impossible not to notice that the top dog is an American (I know Beatty was Canadian, but I think it’s most likely he was playing a US character) whilst the Russians are nowhere to be seen ….

But although an American is in charge, I feel a sense of national (British) pride when observing that the chief scientist, Barclay (David Dodimead), hails from the UK. We may not have the big bucks of our American cousins, but plucky British know-how is clearly still valued in the future (it’s somehow fitting that Barclay wears a comfortable cardigan rather than a futuristic overall).

The accents come thick and fast. The soon to be bumped off Tito, played by Shane Shelton, is clearly an Italian (he’s fond of singing La donna è mobile and saying ‘Mama Mia’ just to hammer this point home). An American sergeant (played by John Brandon) is equally strident, but since Brandon was really an American we’ll have to cut him some slack.

By episode three, Cutler’s sanity is ebbing away at a rate of knots. The tipping point is the realisation that his son, Terry (Callen Angelo), has been sent into space in a doomed attempt to rescue the Zeus 4 probe (which, due to the influence of Mondas, has already been destroyed). I like the way there’s a slight softening of Cutler’s implacable nature when he first speaks to Terry – he begins informally (“hello son”) but instantly seems to stiffen and become more business-like.

It’s the last human touch we see from him, as he then decides that Mondas has to be destroyed with the Z-bomb (“It’s a doomsday weapon, Mister, and rightly primed it could split that planet in half”). Denied authority to use it by Geneva (I wonder if UNIT were just down the corridor from Space Control?) he elects to do so anyway.

The fact it might cause millions of deaths on Earth seems not to worry him (an obvious pointer to his disturbed mental state). By this point he’s got tunnel vision – if Mondas is destroyed then his son has a chance of life and anything else that happens will just be collateral damage.

The small advance party of Cybermen were destroyed in episode two and reinforcements don’t feature greatly in the next episode (apart from a film sequence where they’re easily beaten off).  This, in addition to the way they’re dispatched in the final episode when they do reappear in force, means that – as yet – they’ve yet to establish their reputation as a powerful or implacable foe.  Indeed, it’s probably best to regard The Tenth Planet as a tale somewhat divorced from the Cybermen’s later exploits – the Cybs, as we’ll grow to love them, don’t appear until The Moonbase.

The absence of the Cybermen, not to mention the Doctor, helps to explain why episode three sags a little. But the pace picks up again at the beginning of the final episode as Cutler, on learning that the rocket has been sabotaged, now totally flips and the re-emergence of the Doctor doesn’t do anything to cheer him up ….

Finally, the Doctor begins to take control (typical that his best scenes are mainly confined to the one episode that’s missing) after the Cybermen reappear and kill Cutler. For the first half of the episode the lapel-clutching Doctor of old takes his final bow, assuming temporary command of the Snowcap base with ease and entering into negotiations with the Cybermen.

These scenes are bittersweet, especially since we know that the end is now so near. The second half of the episode finds the Doctor weak and disorientated, suggesting that he’d had to summon up all his remaining energy in order to confront the Cybermen.

His penultimate line (“It’s far from being all over”) is a strangely prophetic one and would have been apt final words for him (“keep warm” lacks a little something, but it’s still quite touchingly delivered).

As for the Cybermen, they’re all destroyed when Mondas disintegrates, which is exactly what the Doctor predicated earlier on. Had Cutler taken his advice, he might have lived to see his son again (the destruction of Mondas meant that Zeus 5 was able to return home safely).

There’s something very touching about the Hartnell/Troughton handover. Unlike all his successors, Doctor Who was really Hartnell’s last hurrah. He’d have a handful of stage and television roles during the next few years, but a mixture of ill heath and disillusionment with the parts he was being offered means that Doctor Who stands as his career epitaph.

It was by no means the whole of his career though – anyone who’s ever enjoyed his time as the Doctor would be well advised to investigate his film work as there’s plenty to enjoy there.

We often hear that it was the Daleks who secured Doctor Who‘s long term future. They certainly played a part (and I’m sure the BBC enjoyed all the merchandising money) but they weren’t in the show week in and week out. But William Hartnell was (apart from the odd occasion when he was enjoying a well-earned holiday) and had the series lacked a strong central character able to engage the interest of the public it’s doubtful whether Doctor Who would have run past its initial 13 episodes.

Thank you and goodbye, Bill. I’m going to miss you.

Doctor Who – The Smugglers

The Doctor, no doubt looking forward to a spot of peace and quiet at last, finds his TARDIS gatecrashed by Ben and Polly. And what’s worse, the trio are then swiftly transported to seventeenth century Cornwall where pirates aplenty have skullduggery on their minds ….

The introduction of Ben and Polly as companions feels a tad awkward. Polly uses a spare TARDIS key to gain access to the ship which is fair enough, but when the Doctor saw them coming through the door why didn’t he just ask them to step out again? Unlike his kidnapping of Ian and Barbara, by this point in the series’ history he seems less concerned about becoming a public figure so it must be that he secretly wanted them to go with him.

Both seem to accept the fact they’ve been transported to Cornwall quite calmly, although Ben is adamant for a while that there’s no way they can also have travelled through time. Hmm, why accept the one but not the other?

It’s not long before the Doctor temporarily parts company with them. The Doctor is carted off by a knife-wielding pirate called Cherub (George A. Cooper) to meet Captain Samuel Pike (Michael Godfrey) whilst Ben and Polly find themselves accused of the murder of Joseph Longfoot (Terence de Marney). Longfoot was the local church warden, but in an earlier life he had been a comrade of Cherub and Pike, and his old shipmates have returned to search for the treasure (me hearties) that Longfoot stole from them.

What I find really appealing about The Smugglers is the ripeness of both the dialogue and performances – it’s the sort of story that’s played with gusto by all concerned. Terence de Marney sets the tone in this respect and things then pick up another gear when George A. Cooper appears on the scene.

The difference between Cherub (vicious, sardonic) and Pike (equally vicious but with a veneer of civilisation) is something that’s wickedly exploited by the Doctor. Taken captive by Cherub, who’s convinced that he knows the location of Avery’s treasure, the Doctor is more than able to play on Pike’s weaknesses. This displeases Cherub, but Pike tells him that “one more word out of you and I’ll slit your gizzard, right? Now, let us talk together like gentlemen. Eh, Doctor?”

The dialogue between the trio is packed with other gems like this –

PIKE: Well, Doctor, ye had best start using your cleverness. So talk, before I let Cherub have ye.
CHERUB: Let me show him first, Captain, ay? Let me give him a taste of Thomas Tickler.
PIKE: He’d be a credit to your trade, would Cherub, Doctor. A touch like an angel’s wing he has with that blade.
CHERUB: Sharp as a whistle, it is. Ever seen a head with no ears, sawbones, ay? Or what them Mexican Indians can do to a bloke’s eyelids, ay?
DOCTOR: You vicious fellow. Get him off my back!
CHERUB: Don’t you talk to me like that. Oh, Captain, give me the word. Just give me one minute. I’ll have the words spilling out of him like blubber from a whale.
PIKE: Well, Doctor? Will ye loosen your tongue or lose it altogether?

He might be on the verge of departure, but there’s no sense in this story that Hartnell’s powers are waning. But I suppose it’s true that had he stayed for a complete fourth season then eventually he might have found himself worn down (in various contemporary interviews he did confess that the almost year-long production treadmill was very wearying)

The Smugglers is also a good vehicle for both Ben and Polly as, separated from the Doctor, they’re forced to use their wits in order to talk themselves out of several tight situations. Mind you, the way they convince Tom (Mike Lucas) that he’s been cursed is rather cruel. It’s played lightly, as is most of the story, but there’s a darker edge to it.

As we reach halfway, the likes of Paul Whitsun-Jones (Squire Edwards) and John Ringham (Josiah Blake) both begin to make their mark. Whitsun-Jones gives an entertaining turn as the corrupt Squire who unwisely enters into an agreement with Pike and soon discovers he’s out of his depth. Ringham has a little less to play with, as Blake is on the law’s side and so has to be played straighter, but he was the sort of solid, dependable actor who’d always add a touch of weight to any series.

Shortly after the Squire realises the folly of attempting a deal with Pike, he also discovers that some of his own associates, such as Kewper (David Blake Kelly), are equally as bloodthirsty. The Squire is unwilling to allow the Doctor, Ben and Polly to be killed in cold blood (“let us behave like gentlemen”) which infuriates Kewper (“Gentlemen? Was this gold got by gentlemen? Is it now to be got by kindness?”).

I find it interesting that The Smugglers is more bloodthirsty and violent than you might expect from a Saturday evening tea-time programme. After the Doctor bamboozles Jamaica (Elroy Josephs) and escapes, Pike threatens his unfortunate underling in the most vivid and florid manner possible. “I’ll tear your liver out and feed it to the sharks, ye sea slime. I’ll cast a spell on ye, me pretty death’s-head. A spell that’ll run from ear to ear.”

These colourful pirate phrases are part and parcel of a story of this type, and when Pike swiftly changes tack and asks Jamaica’s advice, the moment of danger seems to have passed. So the fact that the scene ends with Jamaica’s death (“Fare ye well, Jamaica”) is the sort of unexpected move which helps to keep the audience on their toes.

Thanks to the squeamishness of the Australian censors, several brief moments of violence still exist in video form. Quite how the episodes would have looked after they were excised is anyone’s guess – that the episode three cliffhanger sees Kewper die with a knife in his back would no doubt have been the hardest to deal with.

In other news, we’ve come a long way in just under three years. At the start of the series, the Doctor was a somewhat amoral and selfish character, only keen to assist others if it was in his own self interest (The Daleks, for example).  But by this story he’s totally changed – telling Ben late on that they can’t simply escape in the TARDIS because they have a moral obligation to stay and prevent Pike’s imminent attack on the village.

Over the course of these four episodes, the characters of Ben and Polly begin to solidify. Ben’s hot-headed, easily riled and prone to rush at an obstacle head-on.  Polly’s quieter, more genial and playful, but certainly no pushover. How they would have interacted long-term with Hartnell’s Doctor is a moot point – but there’s enough here to suggest that the trio could have worked well on-screen (although off-screen, it’s no secret that the elder actor found he had very little in common with his younger co-stars).

The body count increases in part four as Pike and Cherub fall out (Pike comes out on top and thanks to the Australian censor again, we’re able to see the moment when he dispatches Cherub). That’s a pity, as George A. Cooper was certainly good value throughout, but then it was hard to go wrong with the sort of lines he was given.

As with many historical stories, the Doctor has to sit on the sidelines as the story comes to a climax (the revenue men, lead by Blake, cross swords with Pike’s motley crew). The visual nature of such a scene doesn’t work particularly well in audio but that’s only a minor quibble.

The Smugglers isn’t a story that many people seem that interested in seeing again. But I do. A cracking guest cast, Hartnell still sounding as if he’s enjoying himself (possibly because he knew it was nearly the end?), location filming in Cornwall, plenty of action for Ben and Polly. Yes please, I’d take all that.  If by some miracle it does ever resurface I think it would pleasantly surprise a lot of people.

But even with just what we’ve got left – the soundtrack, telesnaps and censor clips – it’s possible to get a good feel for the story. If you’ve not experienced it for a while, then give it another go – anyone who enjoys a blood and thunder pirate yarn surely won’t be disappointed. 4 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – The War Machines

For those rewatching the series in chronological order, The War Machines is something of a jolting experience. For the first time since Planet of Giants we have a story set entirely in modern day Britain and for the first time ever the Doctor is shown out and about, enjoying the sights of 1960’s London (especially the Post Office Tower, which back in the mid sixties stood as a key symbol of technological development).

With Dr Kit Pedler now onboard as the series’ scientific advisor, it’s easy to detect his influence. As would later happen in Doomwatch, a scientific hot topic (in this case the fear that computers could become sentient and take over) is at the heart of the story. Indeed, Doomwatch would tackle this theme some years later in The Iron Doctor.

In The War Machines, WOTAN – a super-computer with ideas above its station – decides that the human race should be under its control. WOTAN decides to achieve this goal by brainwashing selected humans and forcing them to build the titular war machines. This is where the logic of the story starts to evaporate as the WM’s not only look very clunky and inefficient, it’s hard to see how they could hope to subjugate a city (today London, tomorrow hopefully the world).

Earlier on, we saw WOTAN recruiting helpers via the telephone – broadcasting an irresistible hypnotic signal. If somehow WOTAN could have developed this idea (a television broadcast maybe?) then that might have worked a little better. Ah well, it’s too late to worry about the plot now.

Ian Stuart Black, returning for a second story in a row, took the original idea by Kit Pedlar (and then roughed out by Pat Dunlop – father of Lesley) and turned out the four scripts. As in The Savages, Stuart Black wasted no time getting the Doctor involved in the story – he gains access to WOTAN and its inventor, Professor Brett (John Harvey), with embarrassing ease and shortly afterwards becomes a house guest of Sir Charles Summer (William Mervyn) in the same casual manner. This feels a little odd, but let’s just go with the flow.

The War Machines drops the Doctor right in the heart of Swinging London (well, let’s say it’s slightly swaying). The Inferno (“the hottest nightspot in town”) is a hoot, peopled with slightly jiving respectable types and library cues courtesy of Johnny Hawksworth.

At the Inferno, we meet Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze) who are Innes Lloyd’s attempt to create more modern companions (they certainly seem to be from a very different generation to Ian and Barbara). Next to them, poor Dodo is clearly surplus to requirements and after she suffers a spot of brainwashing from WOTAN, her time is up. Cured by the Doctor in episode two, she’s then packed off to the country for a good long rest and is never seen again.  Even though she hadn’t been with the series that long, it’s a remarkably off-hand way to deal with a regular character.

I wonder if a year later Wills and Craze remembered her fate when they were dispensed with in a similar fashion ….

One problem with The War Machines is that it employs good actors – John Harvey (Professor Brett), John Cater (Professor Krimpton) and Alan Curtis (Major Green) – and then rather wastes them since once they become slaves of WOTAN they just turn into dull automatons. I know that’s a point of the story, but it means that scenes with them are rather hard going.

Luckily we do have William Mervyn as the avuncular Sir Charles Summer, who teams up with the Doctor to form an agreeable double act. He’s a prototype of a character type who reappears time and again during the Pertwee era. But whilst the Pertwee Doctor delighted in clashing with figures of authority, the Hartnell Doctor is content to be more conciliatory (although the Doctor and Sir Charles do have a brief difference of opinion).

The fact that the army turn up (and prove to be fairly ineffectual) is another story beat that hints at the way the series would develop once UNIT became a regular feature.

Michael Craze is particularly well served during the second half of the story. With Polly now under the thrall of WOTAN, it falls to an increasingly hysterical Ben to raise the alarm. His anger at Sir Charles (when the older man dismisses his wild tales of killer machines) is well done as is the way Ben gradually becomes the Doctor’s side-kick. Given Ben’s military training it’s easy to see why he so swiftly defers to the Doctor (no previous companion or companion-to-be has ever called the Doctor ‘sir’ but it seems natural for Ben to do so).

Polly doesn’t have quite so much to do, but Anneke Wills is gifted plenty of close-ups as Polly begins to fight against WOTAN’s influence.

The conclusion of the story – the Doctor sends a reprogrammed War Machine to destroy WOTAN – feels somewhat anti-climactic. You can’t help but wonder how it reached the top of the Post Office Tower, where WOTAN had its base. Does the Post Office Tower have very large lifts? If so, then I wonder how the War Machine managed to select the correct floor with its big clod-hopping arms.

The War Machines is a real curio then. You have to appreciate the fact it was a trail-blazer in many ways – the novelty of seeing the Doctor in modern-day London, the introduction of Ben and Polly, the way it inadvertently foreshadowed the way the series would develop during the late sixties/early seventies – but the story doesn’t quite hang together. I’ll still give it 3.5 TARDISes out of 5 though.

Doctor Who – The Savages

The moment the Doctor declares that they’ve reached an an age of peace and prosperity you know there’s going to be a sting in the tail very soon ….

The Savages is an obscure one.  Lacking a monster and with only a brief few clips and limited photographic material available to supplement the audio soundtrack, that’s not really surprising.  But whilst the storyline – a seemingly ideal society is revealed to have been built on evil foundations – is fairly routine SF fare, it shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

I will concede that some parts are odd though. The notion that the Elders of this unnamed planet know all about the Doctor (they’ve dubbed him ‘The Traveller from Beyond Time’) because they’ve been following his adventures from the comfort of their advanced city is pretty bizarre.  It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in the TV Comic Doctor Who strip.

But I suppose it does help to integrate the Doctor into the plot quite quickly. His already established status means that he’s not required to prove his worth – as soon as he turns up he’s feted as an honoured guest and given an impressive cloak to wear.

At the same time the Doctor is hob-nobbing with Jano (Frederick Jaeger), the leader of the Elders, Steven and Dodo are given a conducted tour of the city.

We’re not that far into the first episode and already the alarm bells should be ringing for the viewer. Avon (Robert Sidaway) and Flower (Kay Patrick) are both attentive hosts, but Dodo’s not entirely satisfied (“every time I want to see something, they stop me”). On the other hand, Steven is quite prepared to endure this guided tour uncomplainingly.

Making Dodo the questioning one offers her a belated spot of character development, but the downside is that Steven then comes across as a little dim, as he seems to accept without question that the Elders have created a paradise where anything they want will be provided for them on a plate.

There has to be a price of course, and this is the torture of the other race on the planet (referred to by everyone simply as the “savages”). Back in 1966, memories of WW2 would still have been fresh in the memories of many (Terry Nation, for example). The way the young savage Nanina (Clare Jenkins) is strapped to an operating table and watched dispassionately by a group of scientists is a disturbing one which can’t help bringing to mind echoes of Nazi experiments.

After Dodo goes her own way and pokes her nose where she shouldn’t (when Flower suggests she wouldn’t have gone down the forbidden corridor, a sadly resigned Steven tells her that “you don’t know her. She’d go anywhere”) we’re given another sign that the outwardly benevolent world of the Elders is only skin deep. Having failed to keep Dodo in check, Avon and Flower are collected by the guards.

Avon attempts to reassure her, telling Flower that “this is a free state, isn’t it, and we are all equal here”. The fact they are roughly escorted away and simply vanish without trace from the story is a disquieting touch. It certainly carries more punch than any on-screen punishment could.

That the Elders draw the life force from the savages (not killing them, but leaving them barely alive afterwards) in order to replenish themselves is the dirty secret at the heart of their paradise.  It’s the cue for a pulsating scene where the Doctor and Jano face off (such a pity this doesn’t exist on video, as Hartnell sounds to be on cracking form).

JANO: You are standing in the way of human progress.
DOCTOR: Human progress, sir? How dare you call your treatment of these people progress!
JANO: They are hardly people, Doctor. They are not like us.
DOCTOR: I fail to see the difference.
JANO: Do you not realise that all progress is based on exploitation?
DOCTOR: Exploitation indeed! This, sir, is protracted murder!

Character development in The Savages is fairly rudimentary. The two leaders – Jano for the Elders and Chal (Ewan Solon) for the savages – are the ones who emerge as the most rounded individuals. Solon overcomes the handicap of what looks to be fairly unforgiving old-age make up to give Chal a fairly noble air whilst Jano (once he’s taken on the Doctor’s life force) does something similar.

Frederick Jaeger treats us to a fairly accurate Hartnell impression (plenty of hmming) after this happens. The ultimate outcome – the Doctor’s imported conscience finally brings Jano to his senses after all these years – is a neat way of pushing the story towards a conclusion, although part of me wishes that the Elders could have been swayed by arguments as well. As it is, they only seem to capitulate once their laboratory is destroyed and they no longer have the means to experiment on the savages (this always supposes that it couldn’t be rebuilt from scratch).

Since the rest of the Elders are fairly anonymous types, we never find out what they really think of the situation, so once the Doctor toddles off in the TARDIS pretty much anything could happen. Although since Steven has been left behind as their new leader, let’s hope that he’s able to keep the peace.

The faltering friendship between a guard called Exorse (Geoffrey Frederick) and Nanina, which begins in the penultimate episode, does suggest that the future might be a positive one though. Held prisoner by the savages, the previously belligerent Exorse (who earlier had captured Nanina) gratefully accepts the small kindnesses of Nanina when she treats his wounds.  Maybe a little more could have been made of this, although when Exorse returns to the city he doesn’t give his new savage friends away, which shows that his loyalties were already beginning to shift.

So we have to bid farewell to Steven. The nature of his departure is a bit abrupt (although it’s not half as abrupt as Dodo’s upcoming exit). As with previous departures, it’s easy to imagine that Hartnell was as sorry to see Purves go as the Doctor was to leave Steven behind. It’s nice that a few small scraps of 8mm cine-camera footage captured their final scene together.

The Savages might err on the predictable side, but since it’s a four-parter, like most of season three, it never outstays its welcome. I’ll give it 3 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters

Back in the olden days (let’s say up to the late eighties/early nineties) we all knew for a fact that The Gunfighters was an embarrassment. It was the lowest rated Doctor Who story ever (except it wasn’t) and choc-full of terrible performances (except it wasn’t). Jeremy Bentham’s summation in Doctor Who – A Celebration (1983) was typical of the lack of love it generated at the time. “The script was pure Talbot Rothwell, the acting was not even bad vaudeville and the direction was more West Ham than West Coast. It was not good. It was bad and ugly”. Ouch!

If you’re a Doctor Who fan of a certain age, then you probably grew up learning about the series’ illustrious past in great detail before you ever got the chance to watch it (in the UK, repeats of older stories were scarce to non-existent). But by the late eighties this was changing – most of the available episodes could be accessed in wobbly quality if you had a contact in the pirate video network and by the early nineties they were being broadcast in a more watchable form on UK Gold.

It was around this point (when we could actually see The Gunfighters) that opinions about it began to shift. Indeed, early 1990’s A5 DW fanzine culture was a bracing thing – full of twentysomethings who delighted in overturning the received opinions of their elders. So for a while, Pertwee was definitely out of fashion whilst the previously neglected Hartnell era was reassessed much more favourably.

Quite why The Gunfighters should have been the target of so much vitriol is a bit of a mystery, but when stories like that were out of circulation it shows how just a handful of people (Jeremy Bentham amongst them) could shape the debate. We took it for granted they knew what they were talking about ….

I will concede the some of the American accents (yes, the Clanton brothers, I’m looking at you) are a little suspect. Even more suspect is the way the story plays fast and loose with historical fact – if you want to learn about what really happened at the O.K. Corral then it’s best not to trust Donald Cotton.

But those quibbles apart, I can find little to complain about. Hartnell’s in great comic form during the early episodes as the Doctor, suffering from toothache, is forced to seek respite with Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs), who by a remarkable coincidence has just opened up a dental establishment in Tombstone. The fun keeps on coming after the Doctor then runs into Seth Harper (Shane Rimmer) who’s teamed up with the Clantons in order to run Holliday to ground.

DOCTOR: What? Yes, yes, what is it?
HARPER: Holliday!
DOCTOR: Holiday? Yes, I suppose so. Yes, you could call it that.

From such small acorns do mighty oaks of confusion grow. With the Doctor mistaken for the infamous Doc Holliday, comic sparks will fly. After being sidelined during The Celestial Toymaker, Hartnell is now back to his best – give him some decent material to work with and he’d never let you down.

Peter Purves and Jackie Lane both fare very well too. Purves disliked this story for decades as he found director Rex Tucker a difficult man to work with. But even if Tucker didn’t give him a great deal of direction, Purves still emerges with honour (like Hartnell, he was able to pepper the episodes with sharp comic touches – such as his exaggerated double-take when he discovers Charlie’s dead body).

Dodo falls into the company of Doc Holliday and Kate (a delightfully blowsy performance from Sheena Marshe) and during this association is gifted a handful of good lines and bits of business (drawing a gun on Doc Holliday, for example). It’s not much, but considering Dodo’s lack of character development so far it’s a lot more than she’s been used to.

And that’s a real shame because there are signs here that, given the right scripts, Jackie Lane could have been an asset for the series. But her time is already almost up (we’ll discuss the terrible way she was dispensed with in a couple of stories time).

John Alderson (British born, but American based, so his US accent sounded authentic) and Richard Beale were another couple of strong additions to the cast. Alderson’s byplay with Hartnell is always entertaining and Beale was the sort of dependable supporting player who would never leave you down. Add in David Rimmer as the permanently nervous barman Charlie (who comes to a sticky end) and Lawrence Payne as the man in the black hat and you’ve got a very strong cast (far removed from the embarrassment we were told about).

As with The Myth Makers, the story gets darker as it goes on. Steven nearly gets himself lynched whilst the hapless Warren Earp (Martyn Huntley) is murdered by Billy Clanton. And suddenly the Clantons don’t seem quite so comic …

Another criticism of the story is that the Doctor takes no part in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (although how exactly would he have fitted in?). True, this means that the climax of The Gunfighters doesn’t involve the Doctor, but this sort of thing was a problem that the historical stories often struggled with.

Oh, and I’ve always found the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon (another aspect of the story that many dislike) to be good fun. The way the lyrics continually keep updating in order to archly comment on the unfolding narrative is a little touch of genius.

One thing that even the carping 1980’s reviews couldn’t disparage was the quality of the sets. When Seth Harper takes a fatal bullet and slumps on the bar of the Last Chance Saloon it wobbles in a most unconvincing way, but apart from that the sets look solid and convincing (plus you get real horses during the Ealing filming!). Whilst it seems that Rex Tucker had his issues when directing, there’s no sense that he was slapdash or disinterested – often we see shots from unusual angles (either low or high) which suggests he was keen not to settle for anything too obvious.

It’s not perfect (but then what is?) but I’m happy to give The Gunfighters 4 TARDISes out of 5.

Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker

Poor old Celestial Toymaker. It’s one of those stories that’s languished in obscurity for decades – probably ever since 1991 when its only surviving episode (The Final Test) was released on VHS and the less than thrilling hopscotch game was once again seen in all its glory.

It’s fair to say that The Final Test doesn’t show the serial at its best – if any of the first three episodes also existed I’ve a feeling that we’d think better of it. Given the production issues The Celestial Toymaker had to overcome (a restricted budget and numerous rewrites) it’s possibly not surprising that it feels a little rough round the edges. And yet …

I’m never averse to the series trying something different – especially since once Innes Lloyd gets his feet firmly under the table he’ll format DW much more rigidly than its ever been before (I hope you like base under siege stories, as pretty soon you’re going to get an awful lot of them). The Celestial Toymaker‘s childlike fantasy world is like nothing we’d seen before and would rarely see again (apart from The Mind Robber).

Unlike most stories where there’s scientific (or at least pseudo-scientific) reasons for whatever happens, here we just have to accept that the Toymaker (Michael Gough) is a fantastically powerful being who can trap people and force them to play his games. Refreshingly (unlike in The Mind Robber) he doesn’t have galactic conquest on his mind – he’s simply bored and wishes to be entertained. As the story progresses we learn little about him – apart from the fact that he and the Doctor have met before.

As the episodes tick by, one obvious weakness is that Gough ends up being rather underused. After his impressive entrance in the first episode, the Toymaker spends most of his time with a mute and disembodied Doctor (Hartnell taking the opportunity to enjoy a few week’s holiday). So he’s got little to do except keep an eye on the Doctor’s progress in the trilogic game and pop up every so often to annoy Steven and Dodo as they battle through a series of different games.

The world of the Toymaker initially delights Dodo, who so far has been played as little more than an over-enthusiastic child. Steven’s less enamoured with some of the silly games they’re forced to play (I like to think a little of Peter Purves’ attitude was seeping through here).

One thing that appeals to me is the way that Campbell Singer, Carmen Silvera and Peter Stephens keep reappearing in consecutive episodes as different characters. It helps to keep the budget down of course, but it’s also a chance for Singer and Silvera especially to stretch their acting muscles (a pity that neither appear in the final, existing, episode).

In part one they’re a pair of clowns – Joey and Clara. Joey doesn’t speak (he just, Harpo Marx style, honks a horn) whilst Clara has an incredibly annoying high pitched voice.  With very little photographic material in existence, the game they play with Steven and Dodo seems to stretch on interminably.

Things pick up in episode two – The Hall of Dolls – as they’ve now been reincarnated as the King and Queen of Hearts – joined by Stephens as the Knave of Hearts and Reg Lever as the Joker. Singer’s performance as an amiable old duffer with Silvera offering strong support as his stern wife enlivens proceedings enormously (without them, the game of hunt the chair would have been far less fun).

Indeed, as I made my through the story this time, Campbell Singer really emerges as the serial’s unsung hero. His turn in episode three – the bluff and cowardly Sergeant Rugg – is another entertaining one. As with the second episode, it’s the byplay between Singer and Silvera (here playing Mrs Wiggs, a stern cook) that helps to drive the first half of The Dancing Floor on. The second half – Steven, Dodo, Sergeant Rugg and Mrs Wiggs contend with some deadly dancing dolls – might be eerie or it could have fallen flat (with only the soundtrack available it’s impossible to know for sure, but I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt).

As touched upon earlier, the absence of Singer and Silvera hurts the final episode. Peter Stephens’ performance as Billy Bunter (sorry, Cyril) is annoying, although I’ll concede that it’s supposed to be, so in that respect it works well. It’s nice to have Hartnell back in the flesh but his final confrontation with the Toymaker does feel somewhat anti-climatic.

So, it’s a mixed bag overall. But I’ve a feeling this is a story that needs to be seen in order to be appreciated. Some missing stories work well as audios, but The Celestial Toymaker lacks well drawn guest characters (although the roles adopted by Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera in the middle two episodes are worth the price of admission alone) and so suffers without any visuals.

Although on the surface the Toymaker’s games appear whimsical, there’s a harder and nastier edge lurking under the surface. Subverting the safety of the nursery (at one point the Toymaker proudly shows the Doctor two children’s chairs he’s designed for his latest dolls – Steven and Dodo) is an eerie thing to do. And are the ‘people’ Steven and Dodo encounter just figments of the Toymaker’s imagination (as Steven believes) or are they real people, previously ensnared by the Toymaker and now forced to act out his wishes on command? The latter possibility is a horrific one.

Given it’s experimental nature, I’ll give it three and a half TARDISes out of five.

Doctor Who – The Ark

I’m still reeling from the slapdash way Dodo was introduced at the end of the previous serial, The Massacre. Jackie Lane continues to be thrown in at the deep end as this story begins, but as Dodo will eventually settle down I’m prepared to cut her some slack.

The opening episode – The Steel Sky – is a pretty impressive production. There’s plenty of rapid cutting in the jungle scenes from film, to studio, then back to film, etc. This sounds straightforward enough, but since the cutting had to be done live during the studio recording, the chances of something going wrong was quite high.

Unlike film/studio cutting during the colour era, the constant changes from film stock to studio videotape isn’t so noticeable in black and white, so director Michael Imison manages to get away with it. There’s some other nice shots in these early episodes and some decent model-work, which suggests that Imison was trying to use the series’ limited technical resources to their fullest degree.

This is just as well, as the acting is, to put it kindly, a bit hit and miss. Eric Elliott as the Commander and Inigo Jackson as Zentos both manage to chew any bit of scenery they come across. Kate Newman (Mellium) is better, but she’s not given much to do. It’s good to see Michael Sheard (making his DW debut as Rhos) but if it hadn’t been Sheard playing the role I doubt anyone would spend a great deal of time talking about this character.

What’s notable about The Ark is the way it neatly splits into two two-part stories. Although at the end of the second episode (which sees the Doctor and his friends bidding the inhabitants of the Ark a fond farewell after curing them of the terrible damage inflicted by Dodo’s cold) it appears that the story has run its course.

The reveal that the TARDIS has travelled in time, but not space, dropping them back on the Ark seven hundred years later is a good twist. As is the cliff-hanger reveal that the statue of humanity (which was only partly constructed at the start of the story) has now been completed with the head of a Monoid.

Ah yes, the Monoids. They spent the first two episodes in the background as mute servants of the humans. But now they’ve gained voices and – rather ticked off about the way they were treated as second class citizens for centuries – have taken over and are giving the humans a taste of their own medicine.

That the Doctor was partly responsible for this state of affairs (Dodo’s cold led to a mutated disease which, after they left, sapped the will of the humans) is an interesting story beat. Given that the Doctor can never resist meddling in local affairs, it’s easy to imagine him leaving a trail of unintentional destruction as he goes along his merry way. It’s not surprising that the series rarely comments on this though (Planet of the Spiders being a notable exception).

The Monoids, bless them, aren’t in the top rank of Doctor Who monsters. Their wobbling walk is bad enough, but when they begin to talk in part three – The Return – things really begin to career downhill. This episode features several of the serial’s most cherished moments – the Security Kitchen, for one. Maybe this is intended to be ironic and we’re simply not getting the joke (after all, where exactly do the Monoids stuff all the food they force the Guardians to make for them?)

Dodo’s confrontation with Monoid 2 (none of them have names, only Prisoner-ish numbers) is another classic.

DODO: Yes, I bet it’ll take some time to get the whole of the population down here, so the sooner you get started, the better, I should think.
MONOID 2: Don’t worry. It may not take as long as you think.
DODO: What do you mean? Are you up to something?
MONOID 2: Er, no.
DODO: No? But you gave yourself away, didn’t you?

Dodo’s tone here is rather like a mother chastising a naughty child. It helps to dispel any lingering menace that the Monoids might have had. This is a pity as they look quite imposing in still form (see below) it’s only when they walk and talk that they have a problem …

The Ark trundles along to a conclusion, with the humans and the remaining Monoids (after the more warlike ones perish in a brief civil war) agreeing to bury the hatchet and begin a new life on Refusis along with the invisible Refusians, who are looking forward to having a bit of corporeal company at last.

Given what’s happened before though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re at each other’s throats in a couple of decades time ….

It’s easy to be a little dismissive of the simplistic storyline and the lack of three-dimensional guest characters (all the ones we see are drawn from stock – the impulsive hot-headed human convinced that the Doctor is a menace, etc). But The Ark does have some solid science-fiction concepts – such as the generational spaceship in search of a new home – and the production design by Barry Newbery has plenty of little touches which still look good today.

Ratings-wise, I’ll give it three TARDISes out of five.

Doctor Who – Day of Reckoning (5th December 1964)

I’ve recently been treating myself to another watch of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Despite owning the story for 31 years (this was one that I didn’t have a pirate copy of, so first saw it when the official VHS came out in 1990) it’s still hard not to compare and contrast it with the movie. Clearly those childhood screenings buried themselves very deep.

Even for a story like this, where I’m very familiar with the material (having watched it far too many times through the decades) I still find myself ruminating over various points. Such as ….

After the unsuccessful attack on the saucer, David tells Jenny to take Barbara and Susan back to the underground base. Susan goes with Jenny, but Barbara remains behind, briefly catching sight of Ian. We’re obviously missing a later scene as within a few minutes Jenny and Barbara are now together and Susan and David have teamed up.

It’s been said before, but Richard Martin really wasn’t suited to directing action sequences in the studio. Given the lack of time and resources I’m sure most would have struggled (although you suspect Douglas Camfield would have made something of it) but the attack on the saucer is a remarkably sedate affair. Or maybe I’m just subconsciously expecting it to have the thrills that it did in the movie.

I know that everybody criticises the Day of the Daleks Dalek voices, but I find them preferable to some of the strangled efforts in this story (although it was still early days here).

The flight of Barbara, Jenny and Dortmun across London doesn’t achieve anything in story terms, but the sight of the Daleks lounging by various London landmarks does help to create the impression that they really are the masters of Earth (Francis Chagrin’s drum heavy incidentals help to add a touch of urgency).

Dortmun’s death is an interesting moment. Given that he leaves his notes behind, presumably he knew he was going to his death. In story terms, death is a quick way of removing a character who’s fulfilled his usefulness (a favourite trick of Eric Saward) but there’s still something slightly affecting about this moment. Possibly it’s got something to do with the fact he was convinced he’d now perfected the bomb (or was he lying about this to Barbara?).

It’s always irritated me that Richard Martin chooses simply to move the camera up from Ian and Larry’s hiding place in the Dalek saucer to the next level as it clearly reveals that the floor above just stops (it’s a wonder that the Daleks and Robomen didn’t keep falling over the edge). Maybe they felt they could get away with it as happened so quickly, but a cutaway (a Dalek cutaway maybe) would have been a wiser choice.

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Four – Bell of Doom

History continues to proceed in an inexorable fashion, with Steven and the Doctor caught in its flow. To begin with though, Steven is convinced that the Doctor is dead – so his sudden reappearance comes as something of a shock.

He doesn’t explain where he’s been, only mentioning that he was unavoidably delayed. This is something of a plot-flaw – bad enough that the Doctor decided to head off on his own, but it’s even worse that he now swans back without a care in the world.

It’s only when he realises the date and the year that it suddenly becomes clear to him just how much trouble they’re in (and also for those at home with a decent knowledge of French history). Was it assumed that the audience watching in 1966 would have been easily able to put two and two together? If so it implies that the (largely) child viewership must have been very historically literate.

The Doctor is keen to pack Anne off as soon as possible, but the girl has nowhere to go.

DOCTOR:  Now, my dear, there must be somewhere you can stay in Paris.
ANNE:  No, there’s only my aunt’s place, and they’ll kill me there.
DOCTOR:  Oh, nonsense. Tonight, you will be quite safe. Now you go carefully through the streets, hmm?

And that’s the last we see of her. When Steven later learns that thousands of Hugenots were massacred that day he’s convinced that she too must have died and that the Doctor was culpable. “You just sent her back to her aunt’s house where the guards were waiting to catch her. I tell you this much, Doctor, wherever this machine of yours lands next I’m getting off. If your researches have so little regard for human life then I want no part.”

Could the Doctor have saved her? Of course and they could all have left in the TARDIS together. We’ve seen the Doctor pluck people from many different periods of history, so it’s hard to see why Anne would have been any different. Indeed, it’s possible to believe earlier in the story that she was being groomed as possible companion material, but the events of The Daleks Master Plan should have taught us to take nothing for granted ….

If Hartnell’s been taking it easy for the last few weeks, then this episode gives him one of his signature moments. After Steven storms out of the TARDIS, the Doctor is left all alone. “Even after all this time he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history. Well, at least I taught him to take some precautions. He did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors. Now they’re all gone. All gone. None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan, or Vicki. Yes. And there’s Barbara and Chatterton… Chesterton! They were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now Steven. Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can’t. I can’t”

It’s a lovely moment, although given Hartnell’s reluctance to learn lengthy speeches it can’t have been easy for him. Interesting that the Doctor here still seems wedded to the S1 concept of not interfering in history. This ties in with Lucarotti’s previous stories (notably The Aztecs) but the series, notably under the influence of Dennis Spooner, had somewhat moved on since then.

What’s disappointing is the way that the power of this scene is negated by what happens next. A young girl, Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane) bursts into the TARDIS, followed by Steven, and the Doctor is forced to take off immediately. This therefore not only cancels out Steven’s anger with the Doctor, it also provides us with the most perfunctory introduction possible for Dodo, the new companion.

That the Doctor tries to pour oil on troubled waters by pointing out that Dodo’s surname is similar to Anne’s, which maybe suggests than Anne survived after all, feels like little more than an exercise in straw-clutching.

This whole section seems rather bolted on (and was surely contributed by Donald Tosh, rather than John Lucarotti). But even allowing for the way that The Massacre rather dribbles to a halt, the bulk of the story is so strong that this isn’t really an issue.

It might not always feel like Doctor Who, but it’s still excellent drama. Let’s close with a line from Tavannes, a chilling proclamation that sums up the serial perfectly. “Tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood.”

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Three – Priest of Death

As has often been observed, The Massacre doesn’t really feel like a Doctor Who story. The sidelining of the Doctor is one reason – but it could also have something to do with the way that Lucarotti’s script harks back to the style of earlier stories (like The Crusade). In The Crusade, the Doctor was content to be an impartial observer, unable (or unwilling) to influence events.

And even allowing for Hartnell’s turn as the Abbot and Purves’ increasingly frantic efforts to prove that the Abbot is the Doctor, all the real drama in Priest of Death comes from the interaction of the guest cast.

de Coligny and Tavannes continue to cross swords, but now they do so in the presence of the King (Barry Justice) and his mother, Catherine de Medici (Joan Young). These scenes crackle with a theatrical intensity, thanks to the fine playing, but you can’t help but feel they’d work equally well in a one-off non-Doctor Who drama.

Justice’s Charles IX is a capricious, easily distracted ruler. At one point he tells de Coligny that “war is so tedious” and shows a desire to move onto other, more frivolous matters. His love and respect for de Coligny is honest and unforced though, a far cry from both his mother and Tavannes, who are plotting to kill him.

Quick to rise to anger, Charles is shown to be easily manipulated (especially by his mother). He does attempt to emphasise his dominance, but the Queen Mother (a calm, restrained performance by Young) remains uncowed.

QUEEN MOTHER:  You summoned the council?
CHARLES IX:  I gave orders I was to be left alone.
QUEEN MOTHER:  Without my knowledge or consent?
CHARLES IX:  I asked to be left alone, mother.
QUEEN MOTHER:  The threat over your friend, the Admiral? You are the King.
CHARLES IX:  Yes, I am the King – and to be obeyed! Now keep out of my sight unless you care to end your days in a convent.
QUEEN MOTHER:  I would wish you have the courage, my son.
CHARLES IX:  I have but to give the order.
QUEEN MOTHER:  Summon your guards, have me arrested. But you had better have a good reason for the council- and for the people.
CHARLES IX:  The attempted assassination of my Admiral, by you and Tavannes. Do you deny it, Madame?
CHARLES IX:  Have a care. I mean what I say. I shall send Tavannes to the block!
QUEEN MOTHER:  You would execute the Marshall of France for doing his duty?
CHARLES IX:  Duty? He’s an assassin!
QUEEN MOTHER:  He tried to rid you of a dangerous enemy.
CHARLES IX:  de Coligny is my friend. You, Madame, are my enemy.

And so we come to Hartnell’s appearance as the Abbot. Apart from a few words at the end of the first episode, it’s little more than a cameo (two scenes lasting only a few minutes). Hartnell doesn’t change his speech patterns (despite some fan claims to the contrary) which makes it easier for Steven to believe that it’s just the Doctor pretending.

The reluctance by Lucarotti to confirm or deny the true state of affairs leads us into a classic cliff-hanger. Steven finds the Abbot’s dead body (murdered on the orders of Tavannes) in the street and is still convinced that it’s the Doctor. Logic tells us that it can’t be him, but (if we could be see it) I’m sure it would be a striking image.