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.

An interview with Anneke Wills

Beginning her career as a child actress in the mid fifties, Anneke Wills worked solidly for the next few decades – appearing on stage, in films as well as numerous television programmes. In 1960 she was cast as ‘Girl on Airfield’ in two episodes of The Strange World of Gurney Slade, starring Anthony Newley. It was a job which changed her life ….

Anneke didn’t have to attend a formal audition. “All I remember is an agent calling you up and saying ‘okay’. Later on I heard that he (Newley) chose me out of Spotlight and they showed me the picture he liked. Apparently he said ‘I’ll have her’ (chuckles).”

“I climbed on the coach and there was Tony Newley, surrounded by his crew. I was very shy and after a brief hello we were driving up to the airfield. I do know that standing on that airfield and looking into his eyes I fell instantly in love with the man. He was utterly charming and captivating and sweet.”

Anneke’s affection for Anthony Newley still shines through very clearly today. She went on to make the point that although he may be better known now as a singer, his grounding was very much as an actor. “Although he would go on to become a great singer, he was basically an actor. And a very, very talented one. It was lovely, it was always lovely to work with a very talented actor. The focus is there and it’s very energising.”

It’s always been assumed that Newley was heavily involved with Gurney Slade, both on the writing and directing side. This is confirmed by Anneke. “Oh he was completely involved. Sid Green and Dick Hills were a little group with him and they got this baby together and there would be lots of hilarious falling about and shuffling of scripts and organising.”

Anneke’s main memory of her brief association with Gurney Slade remains the morning spent on the airfield. “I didn’t know I came back for the final one until about three or four weeks ago when I sat down to watch it”. This at last solved the mystery for her about why there was a picture in existence of her sitting on Bernie Winters’ lap.

Watching the episodes did spark the odd memory though. She recalled being less than impressed with the clothes she was given to wear. “Why have they put me in a baggy old mackintosh? And then I was told he wanted you to look like a French film star. And they all wore gaberdine mackintoshes.”

Anneke then explained a little about Anthony Newley’s inspirations. “When I moved in with him we used to fall about with laughter listening to the Goons. Both of us were fans of the Goons and Gurney Slade had a similar kind of surrealistic humour that he found fascinating.  He made Gurney Slade into a sort of magic thing with off the wall humour and his own incredible charm. But it also was his own story, he was basically saying ‘stop the world, I want to get off’. He wanted to walk off the set and talk to ants and dogs and have a completely difference experience from the one that everyone else was following. And that was his uniqueness.

“In the next thing he did (Stop The World – I Want To Get Off) it was the same sort of story – the little chap trying to find his way in the world, trying to make sense of the madness. It was a sort of ongoing quest for him.”

Touching again upon Newley’s grounding as an actor, Anneke feels that it informed his unique singing style. “His voice in a way was like an actor being a singer. And so it was absolutely unique, he didn’t train, he just sung naturally. And I think that’s what it was which inspired the likes of David Bowie.”

The discussion then moved onto Doctor Who, something which – judging by her enthusiastic response – remains very close to her heart. “This year, during the Lockdown, when it was my birthday I had lovely cards from all the Doctor Who women. We are such a family and I really have missed them this year because we always got to meet up, doing gigs and things, and it’s got me thinking about what extraordinary women were cast as the companions of Doctor Who. Each one a totally unique human being and a wonderful woman and my friend.”

In recent years, Anneke’s Doctor Who association has continued apace with both Big Finish and BBC Audiobooks. But during Lockdown that’s come to a temporary halt. “A lot of them are continuing to do recordings but I don’t have a mobile phone, I don’t have a computer. I only have this small television, on which I only really watch Channel 81 (Talking Pictures TV).”

But Anneke seems to have adjusted to Lockdown life pretty well. “I’m very lucky because I’ve got a garden so it’s given me guilt free, obsessional gardening. And I’m also a happy hermit, so in fact it’s been quite nice for me.”

Out of her audio work, it’s the Target novelisations which are closest to her heart. “I really enjoy it. The last thing I did before Lockdown was The Smugglers and I just absolutely adored doing that. I love reading the Target books, I love doing all the characters.  To be able to still be performing is a treat.”

Leading on from that, I wondered if there was one of her Doctor Who stories which she’d particularly like to see returned. I’d assumed Anneke’s answer might have been along the lines of, say, The Power of the Daleks, so her response came as something of a surprise. “I’d love to see The Smugglers. Mainly because it was Michael Craze’s and my favourite one. We went to Cornwall! That was such a treat! If we went filming it was usually in a drafty old quarry.”

I’ve always had a fondness for The Smugglers as well, so I’m happy to second this suggestion. It’s one of those forgotten stories which nobody ever seems to talk about – but with extensive location filming and an intriguing guest cast, it must have something going for it.

I wrapped up our chat by touching upon the proposed second series of Strange Report. “At the end of doing the sixteen episodes, they came to Tony (Quayle) and me, cos Kaz (Garas) of course would have been happy to film in America, and they said ‘look, we’ll do another lot but we want to do them in Hollywood’. We went off to Tony’s dressing room and he didn’t really want to do it, but he said he would agree to it if I wanted to. I told him that it was impossible. I had two young children and my marriage wouldn’t cope with it, and anyway I don’t like Hollywood. So we went back to the American producers and told them no – they were so disappointed.”

A lively and engaging personality, it was a real pleasure to spend some time chatting with Anneke Wills about just a small section of her fascinating career.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade on Blu Ray can be ordered directly from Network via this link.

Strange Report on DVD can be ordered directly from Network via this link.

More information about Anneke Wills can be found on her website She’s also on Twitter – @AnnekeWills

The Likely Lads – The Other Side of the Fence


The Likely Lads (1964 – 1966) was something of a ground-breaking series.  Fifty years on, its impact may have dulled, but back then a sitcom that revolved around two men who were not only young and working-class but also came from the North was decidedly unusual.

Dick Clement (born in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex) and Ian La Frenais (born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear) were two writers with different outlooks and temperaments.  But something about their partnership simply clicked (it’s still going strong today).

Despite the fact that the show was recorded in London, the scripts seemed to catch the authentic feel of working-class life and the show ran for three years.  That it was later rather overshadowed by the sequel series, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, is easy to understand. The Likely Lads was made in black and white, so repeats have been more infrequent (plus quite a few of the episodes were wiped and no longer exist).  And to be honest, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? is just a better show – the scripting and performances are sharper and the fact that Bob and Terry are a little older is also important.  They’re far from middle-aged, but they’re also no longer the “lads” from the original series.

The Likely Lads seems to take its cue from films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).  Like the central character in that film, Bob (Rodney Bewes) and Terry (James Bolam) work in a factory and live for the weekends, where they can spend their weekly wages on beer, football and girls.

Even in the early episodes, Bob and Terry are very different characters.  Terry never really changes (not even when we meet him again in the 1970’s) but Bob is always keen to “get on”.  This is made plain in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? – Bob has a fiancé, a nice new council house and enjoys foreign holidays (a rarity at this time).

But even as early as The Other Side of the Fence (series one, episode four, original tx 6th January 1965) Bob’s desire to better himself comes to the surface.  He has a chance to leave the factory for a job in the office.  It offers better pay and prospects, plus the females are rather nice as well ….

The class/social divide between the factory and office workers is sharply defined.  Terry, waiting for Bob to leave the office for the day, spies the departing office ladies.  They’re a clear class apart from the sort of women he’s used to, but that doesn’t stop him chancing his arm.  Sally Anne (Didi Sullivan), who works in personnel, seems quite responsive whilst Bob has already fallen for Judith (Anneke Wills) who’s the secretary to Bob’s new boss.  The problem is that Judith is in a relationship with the oily rep Nesbit (Michael Sheard).

Despite being born in Aberdeen, Sheard manages a credible Northern accent and is suitably nasty as Bob’s rival in love.  Judith is friendly and helpful to Bob and as played by the lovely Anneke Wills certainly catches the eye.  Is this the reason why Bob attempts to make a go of his office job?

Although you might have expected Terry to be more cynical about Bob’s social climbing, that’s not really the case.  Although it is true that after Bob invites Terry to be his guest at the plush office social he can’t help but stifle a grin at the sight of Bob dressed in a dinner jacket and bow tie.  The fact that most of the other men are similarly attired cuts no ice with Terry, it’s just not the sort of thing that they do.

The evening turns sour when Nesbit gleefully tells Terry that he won’t be able to attend the dance – the function is for office staff only, so Terry (as factory fodder) doesn’t qualify.  Terry doesn’t seem terribly put out, but this slight upsets Bob so much that he jacks in the office job there and then and decides to go back to the factory.

In a way this is rather depressing, the class barrier seems to be still firmly in place as we see the working-class interloper (Bob) returned to where he came from.  But this blow is softened when Bob says he never wanted the job in the drawing office anyway because he’s no good at drawing (the truth or a lie to make Terry feel better?)  The real result occurs just after this, when Sally Anne and Judith decide to go for a drink with Bob and Terry.

Helped by the appearances by Michael Sheard and Anneke Wills, The Other Side of the Fence is entertaining enough.  Bob’s misadventures in the office could be seen as a warning that it’s a good idea to know your place, suggesting that his attempts to better himself were always doomed to failure.  This may be too critical a reading though and since they end up with the girls, everything in the Likely Lads’ world comes right in the end.

The Strange World of Gurney Slade – Episode Two

gurney 02

In this second episode, Gurney ponders the delicate nature of relationships.  We open at a deserted airfield which quickly becomes (in his mind at least) a dance-hall.  He desperately wants to meet the right woman – but even if he did, what would he say?

He couldn’t just go up to her and ask her out, as they have to be introduced first – preferably at a nice cocktail party.  He then spies a gorgeous young girl (Anneke Wills, credited here as Annika Wills) and he eventually plucks up the courage to ask her to dance.  Except, interestingly he doesn’t.  Up until the point they start dancing, they don’t exchange a single word (although the audience has been privy to their, sometimes overlapping, thoughts).  And is she the love of his life?  After the dance she rejoins her friend and then exits from the story, so it doesn’t seem so.  Gurney mournfully considers that “you get nowhere if you don’t talk to them and yet you get the brush off if you do.”

This whole sequence shines a light on the rather repressed morals of late fifties and early sixties Britain.  But the irony is that Anthony Newley suffered from no such repression himself.  He enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a womaniser – witness his relationship with Wills, which blossomed after the recording of this episode.  It led first to an abortion and then later to the birth of their daughter, Polly, in 1962 (which occurred at the time that Newley was considering ending his marriage to Ann Lynn so he could marry Joan Collins).

So if you know Newley’s history, it does give these scenes an extra frisson.  And it’s clear that the camera loves Wills’ delicate beauty and their bizarre (largely unspoken) meeting is all the more memorable for taking place in the middle of a desolate airfield.

The theme of love continues with the next sequence as Gurney meets a typical family – father, mother and three children.  He asks the husband, Frank (Edwin Richfield), if he feels that he married the right woman.  Or did he just marry the woman next door, the one he was expected to?  As with the airfield scene, this gently mocks the accepted values of the day.  As the sixties progressed, many things (including relationships) would change and become much more flexible (in a way that would have seemed unthinkable to most people in 1960). Again, this seems to foreshadow Newley’s own restless jump from one woman to another.  How much of Gurney Slade is actually Anthony Newley is an interesting, and unknowable, question.

After thinking it over, Frank decides that yes, he didn’t marry the love of his life – so he sets out to find her.  His wife doesn’t seem too concerned (plenty more fish in the sea) and she exits as well. This leaves Gurney with the children – a boy and girl (both aged about eight) and a baby in a pram.  Even for a series with such a tenuous grip on reality, it’s a little jarring to see the children abandoned.  But Gurney doesn’t seem to mind and he starts a lively conversation with the baby (who seems to be incredibly articulate for an infant).  He still believes in Santa Claus and fairies though – though Gurney tells him that there are no such things.

In the world of Gurney Slade, anything can happen – and a real-life fairy (Hugh Paddick) appears and grants them a wish.  This transports them to a rubbish tip which is strewn with parts of female mannequins.  He suggests to the children that they select the best parts and make a mother.  There’s something rather creepy about this – the stark black and white photography definitely helps to create a vague sense of unease.

In the end though, all is well as the children are reunited with their mother and father.  So what was the moral of the story?  Gurney ends by spouting a deliberately nonsensical series of proverbs, so we can assume that the story had no meaning.  Frank didn’t find his ideal woman and he seems happy to settle for the one he has.  And Gurney’s back in his imaginary dance-hall, looking for another woman to trip the light fantastic with.