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.

Danger Man – Bury the Dead

Tony Costello, an agent colleague of Drake’s, dies in a motor crash. Accident or murder? Drake heads out to Sicily to investigate ….

Drake’s first port of call is the police, where the Captain (Paul Stassino) acts in such a shifty fashion that he might as well have just confessed on the spot. Stassino is also saddled with a fake-looking moustache which is more than a little distracting.

Jo Harris (Beverley Garland) claims to be a friend of Tony’s (his fiancée in fact). It’s left dangling for a short while as to whether she’s on the side of the angels or not (it turns out that she is). That seemed a little unlikely early on though, after Drake takes her to investigate the site of the crash. No sooner has he begun searching through the undergrowth than a shotgun pokes out through the bushes and nearly causes him a mischief.

Since Jo was the only one who knew of Drake’s intentions, it’s a remarkable stroke of luck that the shooter was in the right place at the right time. That appears to be Hugo Delano (Dermot Walsh), who pops out of the bushes with a shotgun, although oddly Drake investigates his weapon and seems happy that it wasn’t fired. So was there a second person also waiting in the undergrowth with a loaded gun on the off chance Drake would come calling? Maybe, although that makes even less sense.

This is only a small niggle though and the rest of the story proceeds smoothly. We don’t know why Tony was killed or exactly what the Captain and Delano are up to until the closing few minutes and this sense of mystery is a definite plus.

As are the arrival of Patrick Troughton and George Murcell as Bart and Bruno, two street toughs with orders to get Drake into trouble so that the Captain will have an excuse to lock him up for a few days. Troughton, using his one size fits all foreign accent, is maybe a little out of his comfort zone but Murcell has an imposing persona which works well in one of the episode’s key scenes.

Bruno, increasingly frustrated that all his attempts to provoke Drake into a bar-room brawl have failed, smacks him hard around the face several times (Drake simply soaks up the punishment). McGoohan doesn’t have to do much here, but it’s the way he doesn’t do it that’s so impressive. Of course Drake could have simply walked away to, but maybe he was enjoying playing a game of psychological warfare with his opponents.

Previously, I’ve drawn attention to a few episodes which have been somewhat on the predictable side. So credit where credit’s due, I have to admit that the key twist of Bury the Dead (Costello faked his death) wasn’t something I saw coming. The gun-running scheme that Costello, Delano and the Captain are involved in isn’t terribly interesting, but the final five minutes of the story still pulsates.

First you have Robert Shaw’s performance as Tony Costello. His screentime might be limited, but his star quality is evident. The confrontation between Drake and Costello (McGoohan getting the chance to show a rare spasm of rage, as Drake’s controlled persona slips for a few seconds) and the unhappy reunion of Costello and Jo are both memorable moments.

The downbeat ending – a shellshocked Drake and Jo drive away – is also something that’s appreciated.

Written by Ralph Smart from a story by Brian Clemens, Bury the Dead is a top-tier effort.

Random Who – The Web of Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorna Doone – Simply Media DVD Review

John Ridd (John Sommerville) was just a boy when his father, a good and honest man, was brutally murdered by Carver Doone (John Turner). Despite an outward display of respectability, the wealthy Doone family delight in creating havoc and mischief.

As John grows up, he vows to avenge his father’s death. But matters are complicated when he falls deeply in love with the young Lorna Doone (Emily Richard) whose hand in marriage has been promised to her cousin, Carver ….

Subtitled A Romance of Exmoor, Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore was originally published in 1869. An instant success, it has spawned numerous television and film adaptations over the last hundred years or more. It’s easy to see why, since it’s a heady mixture of action, adventure, revenge and romance.

This 1976 BBC Classic Serial version is a faithful adaptation (always a hallmark of the Classic Serials) although it does take a short time to tune in to the style of production. Even for those well used to the delights of archive television, some of the 1970’s Classic Serials initially appear to be rather earnest and mannered (the numerous very fake-looking beards are also a hindrance). But it doesn’t take long before the story starts to engross and the small niggles fade away.

Richard Beaumont, as the young John, carries most of the first episode. Although still a teenager, he’d already enjoyed a decent career stretching back to the late 1960’s (including a brief recording contract with Decca records). His John is a pleasing mixture of youthful impatience and innocence and such is the impression he makes that it’s almost a shame when John suddenly turns into the much older John Sommerville.

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It’s slightly odd that none of the other characters seem to age though (which makes John’s transformation from scrawny youth to strapping young man all the more jarring). Possibly it would have been better to have staged this transformation at the start of the second episode, rather than at the end of the first.

Episode one also gives us a brief glimpse of the young Lorna, played by Jennifer Thanisch (best known for appearing as Anne in the Southern series of The Famous Five). John Somerville’s John Ridd is a stolid enough creation but it’s Emily Richard’s Lorna Doone who really catches the eye. Easily the more experienced actor of the two, Richard had just starred in The Glittering Prizes and would later appear in the well-remembered WW2 drama Enemy At The Door.

Plenty of familiar faces are on show. Patrick Troughton plays Councillor Doone, not a terribly large role but Troughton was always good value whatever part he played. Ian Hogg is very appealing as the roguish highwayman Tom Faggus whilst Lucinda Gane (later to play Miss Mooney in Grange Hill) appears as Lizzie, one of John’s sisters. David Garfield, Max Faulkner and Trevor Baxter are amongst those who contribute to a strong supporting cast.

The romance between John and Lorna is a key part of the narrative, with various other subplots – the infighting amongst the Doones, rumbles of unrest in London about the King ‘s conduct – also bubbling away nicely throughout the episodes.

Whilst it’s true that some of the rustic supporting characters err on the ripe side, Lorna Donne boasts some fine performances amongst the principals. If you love the 1970’s era of the BBC Classic Serials then this should certainly appeal.

Lorna Doone is available now from Simply Media, RRP £24.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

The Saint – The Romantic Matron

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Simon, this week in Argentina, meets a charming American lady called Beryl Carrington (Ann Gillis).  She tells him that a recent acquaintance – the personable Ramon Venino (John Carson) – has entrusted her with a list of political dissidents which he says will be vital in ensuring the future stability of the country.  Beryl passes the list to the Saint, who instantly comes under attack from the ungodly.  This raises Simon’s suspicions that the friendly Venino may not be all he appears to be ….

The Saint, like most ITC series of the time, requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  The opening stock footage and caption might tell us that we’re in Buenos Aires, but it quickly becomes clear that the filming was done a little closer to home.  Sometimes the programme makers can strike lucky and find a British location that does a fair job of doubling for this week’s foreign locale (or if not, they can simply stick a few palm trees into the frame and hope that does the trick!)

Alas, the opening of The Romantic Matron is one of the series’ less impressive location gambits.  We switch from Simon, relaxing at a pavement café, to a ridicously ugly building that isn’t at all in harmony with the attractive stock footage we’ve just witnessed.  For the dedicated ITC watcher, this will be a familiar sight – it’s the Elstree studios in Borehamwood.

Before we meet Beryl, there’s the little matter of the daring theft of one million dollars worth of gold bullion to consider.  The local police inspector (played by Patrick Troughton) resolves to hunt the criminals down.  If you’ve seen the Doctor Who story The Enemy of the World, then you might be able to guess what accent Troughton adopts – clearly it was his one size fits all solution when playing foreign types.

From the first time we see her, Beryl is presented as an innocent aboard.  Which is presumably why she’s targeted by the smooth and polished Venino (although since she’s only just arrived in the county it’s a slight mystery how he picked her out so quickly).  Venino shows her the sights, but there’s always a dark shadow dogging him – he’s followed everywhere by two silent men.

And what’s Simon doing whilst Beryl and Venino are becoming better acquainted and making googly eyes at each other?  Not a great deal, it has to be said.  This is another of those stories where the Saint remains off-screen until well into the episode – before that, Ann Gillis and John Carson take centre stage.

The title might suggest that Beryl, the romantic matron, is middle-aged, but Ann Gillis was only in her mid thirties at the time of recording.  As a child, she starred in a number of Hollywood films (seemingly positioned as the next Shirley Temple).  Her adult acting career was less prolific, although she notched up appearances in several other ITC series during the early 1960’s (EspionageThe Sentimental Agent).  Gillis is rather appealing as the ingenious adventurer – suddenly emboldened by her whirlwind romance with Venino.

John Carson’s second Saint role is much better than his first.  He’s still playing a foreigner, but at least this time he’s not browned up.  Always a favourite actor of mine, Carson manages to breathe a little life into a character that’s – possibly deliberately – not terribly well defined.

Once Beryl meets Simon and pours out her strange tale, then the story begins to pick up some impetus.  The Saint wasn’t a series which tended to dig too deeply into real-world politics, so the brief discussion here about Argentina’s current situation is fairly noteworthy.  Simon begins by pointing out how the people still seem to be a little nervous (a legacy, he claims, of decades of dictatorship).  However, things now seem to be on a more even keel thanks to the fairly popular government, suggesting that the story was set prior to March 1962 (which saw the moderate President Frondizi overthrown).

If this talk of politics seems a little dull, then never fear – it isn’t too long before Simon gets to duff up a couple of heavies.  It’s a cracking fight scene, with the Saint operating at full intensity (I especially like the way he slaps the second one around the face a few times before pushing him and his friend over and then toppling his bed onto them for good measure!)  You can tell it’s been a pretty severe tussle as Roger Moore’s usually immacuately coiffered hair is in a very distressed state by the end ….

The Saint gets a pretty good workout during this episode, as he’s later duffed up in a garage and then strung up for good measure. It looks fairly uncomfortable, but luckily Simon doesn’t stay trussed up for long.

The riddle of the missing gold bullion possibly isn’t too difficult a mystery to solve (especially when you discover that Venino – having bumped into Beryl’s car – was extremely keen to have the damage repaired at a local garage, all costs paid by him).

Larry Forrester’s teleplay relocates the action from Cuba to Argentina, but otherwise it sticks quite closely to Charteris’ story (originally published in 1958).  It’s mildly interesting that the crux of the story – Venino attempts to smuggle the stolen gold out of the country by fashioning solid gold bumpers (suitably camouflaged) onto Beryl’s car – was a plot point echoed in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, published in early 1959.  Did the one inspire the other, or was it just coincidence?

Fleeting appearances by some familiar faces (Patrick Troughton, Victor Spinnetti, Joby Blanshard) helps to keep the interest ticking along, but truth be told The Romantic Matron never quite sparks into life.  Gillis and Carson are both good and Roger Moore seems to relish the opportunity to handle a bit more action than usual, but the basic plot isn’t really that gripping.  Three halos out of five.

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Six

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We’ve seen over the last few episodes how Lethbridge-Stewart’s fighting force has been somewhat decimated.  Apart from himself, only Evans and Arnold are still standing.  Evans remains an unreconstructed coward whilst Arnold continues to be a pillar of no-nonsense strength.

ARNOLD: Now look, lad, you’re scared, that’s understandable. But you’ve been in the Army long enough to know that orders is orders. There’s four people up there. If we don’t warn them, they’re for the chop.
EVANS: So? Four of them’s getting the chop. There’s no reason to make it six, is there?

There’s another surprise reappearance – that of Chorley – who was last seen in episode three. It’s suggested again that he’s the Intelligence’s agent, but since he’s been absent for so long that doesn’t quite scan.

Evans getting carried off by the Yeti (“Hey, steady on. Oh, going for a walk, are we? There’s lovely”) is an episode highlight as is the moment when he’s deposited by the Yeti next to the Colonel and the Doctor. He brazenly denies that he had intended to make a break for it. “Desertion? Me? Oh, good heavens, no. No, I thought I’d try a single-handed and desperate attempt to rescue Professor Travers and the girl”.

We’re entering the end-game, as everyone is brought to the Piccadilly ticket hall, where the Intelligence has set up its brain drain machine. And this is where the Intelligence’s agent is finally revealed.  Right up until the last moment we’re teased that it’s Chorley, but then the shock reveal of Arnold is made.

Jack Woolgar impresses as the passionless voice of the Intelligence, but this is another of those moments which doesn’t make any sense. The Intelligence state that he’s been hiding in Arnold’s lifeless body for some time – but exactly how long?

Arnold seemed no different when he reappeared than he did before, but it’s equally hard to believe that he’s been controlled by the Intelligence all along (although that’s what the story tells us). There’s a faint air of disappointment here, somewhat akin to the feeling you get when a whodunit doesn’t play fair.

The story dropped numerous red herrings along the way, hinting that the Colonel, Evans, Chorley, etc were all credible candidates, but suspicion never fell on Arnold for a minute. Maybe this was due to the Great Intelligence’s skill, but it still feels like a little bit of a cheat.

And if the Doctor’s final reckoning with the Intelligence is a bit of damp squib, then it doesn’t really alter the fact that The Web of Fear is a classic slice of Who. A few quibbles about the script apart, this is glorious stuff and something which is always a pleasure to revisit.

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Five

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After four episodes, the Great Intelligence – speaking through the voice of Travers – finally explains what his/her/its evil plan is.  Some might think that the Intelligence has been somewhat slow on this score, but with six episodes to fill it clearly couldn’t show its hand too soon.

TRAVERS: Through time and space, I have observed you, Doctor. Your mind surpasses that of all other creatures.
DOCTOR: What do you want?
TRAVERS: You! Your mind will be invaluable to me. Therefore I have invented a machine that will drain all past knowledge and experience from your mind.

And this is where the wheels of the story slightly come off. I think that one of the reasons why I enjoy 60’s Who so much is that much of the mythos which would later build up around the character of the Doctor is absent. He’s no god-like creature, known and feared throughout the universe, he’s simply a wanderer in space and time.

So stories where he’s targeted by the baddies are pretty rare (this one and The Chase spring to mind) meaning that it’s much more likely that wherever he appears nobody’s heard of him.

And anyway, if the Great Intelligence needs the Doctor’s intelligence than he/she/it can’t be that great anyway. The Almost Great Intelligence maybe?

We’ve previously seen that the Lethbridge-Stewart of this story is a pragmatist, happy to escape rather than fight to the last man.  So when Evans suggests that if they agree to the Intelligence’s plan (delivering up the Doctor) possibly everyone else will be allowed to go free. The stalwart Brigadier would never consider this of course, but as has been touched upon, the man here isn’t quite the man he’d become and there’s a palpable moment of ambiguity in the air.

The controlled Travers stomps off with Victoria as a hostage whilst the others debate what to do next. Given that the Yeti have decimated the soldiers, there has to be a good reason why the Intelligence simply didn’t take the Doctor. And there is – unless the Doctor submits willingly, the brain drain machine won’t work.  So the fact that the Doctor has been given a deadline to either give himself up or face the consequences provides him with a welcome spot of breathing time.

The Doctor once again teams up with Anne. I wonder if these scenes influenced the creation of Zoe? Zoe might have been younger and more frivolous, but the seed of partnering the Doctor with a scientifically-minded companion might have been sown here.

The scene where Evans deliberately disobeys Lethbridge-Stewart’s order is a fascinating one.  The Brig wouldn’t have stood for this sort of insubordination of course, but the Colonel – still somewhat shell-shocked by the events of the previous episode – accepts Evans’ flagrant disregard of his orders quite calmly.  For those who know Lethbridge-Stewart well, to see the character so out of control is quite disturbing.

Deborah Watling is a little out of the action, but she does get to share a few nice scenes with her father. And when Jamie, out in the tunnels with the Colonel, spots Victoria’s handkerchief it’s hard not to be reminded of one of Frazer’s most famous convention anecdotes.

The Web of Fear is one of those stories where characters tend to disappear suddenly and then reappear with the same lack of ceremony. Both Arnold and Chorley have been MIA for a while but then Arnold pops up out of nowhere, seemingly no worse for wear.

The Doctor and Anne’s lash-up (a device to control the Yeti) seems to work, but a mass of web seems to spell the end for the Goodge Street fortress ….

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Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Four


Presumably sometime during the previous episode Anne decided to swop her mini-skirt and boots for a trouser suit, since that’s what see her wearing as the moving pictures start again.  Given all that’s going on it seems a little strange that she was such a slave to fashion.  She might be an independent young woman, making her way in a man’s world, but it’s possibly not too much of a surprise to find her portrayed as something of a clothes horse (a sign of those times).

When the Doctor and the others find her, she’s in a highly distressed state, which is pretty understandable since the Yeti have abducted her father.  Tina Packer rather overplays here, although given the situation Anne finds herself in that’s not too surprising.

Troughton continues to underplay though, which is notable in the early scene where Evans asks the Doctor if he believes that the Yeti have taken Travers.  The Doctor’s dialled-down, abstracted air makes it plain that he’s considering multiple possibilities, none of them good. When the Doctor later outlines what he knows about the Intelligence, it’s yet another wonderfully delivered few lines from Troughton. “Well, I wish I could give you a precise answer. Perhaps the best way to describe it is a sort of formless, shapeless thing floating about in space like a cloud of mist, only with a mind and will”.

Jack Woolgar continues to impress as well.  Look for the moment when Arnold tells Lethbridge-Stewart that Weams and the others are dead – Arnold’s voice cracks for a split-second, just enough to show the pain he feels at the loss of his men.  That Arnold later turns out to be the agent of the Intelligence, rather than the more obvious Chorley, is a cruel blow, possibly one of the cruellest of the story.

But red herrings continue to be spread about, since the Colonel doesn’t seem to remember meeting Evans (he was apparently his driver).  Does this mean that Lethbridge-Stewart is the agent or is Evans possibly the rotten apple?  No to both questions, but they’re nice misdirects.

Anne operates in this episode as pretty much a proto Zoe or Liz.  Like them, she’s able to speak to the Doctor on a similar scientific level (something that Jamie and Victoria were unable to do) which enables the Doctor to have a confidant who can also act as a sounding board for his theories.

One of the reasons why the Yeti work so well is that they’re not seen very often.  Keep them on screen for too long and their shortcomings become obvious.  But a few brief glimpses here and there, ideally lurking in the shadows, and they’re the stuff of nightmares.

But this episode sees them head out and about as they tangle with Lethbridge-Stewart and the others at Covent Garden.  This film sequence shouldn’t work at all – Yeti in the cold light of day sounds like a very bad idea – but Camfield pulls it off in a pulsating action scene that’s an obvious story highlight.

It’s interesting that Lethbridge-Stewart mounts the mission to Covent Garden for one reason only – to locate the TARDIS which will enable them all to escape.  The Brigadier would surely have remained and fought to the very last man, but the Colonel is much more of a pragmatist, keen to find an escape route.

During the scene you can play spot the stuntman – Terry Walsh, Derek Martin and Derek Ware should all be instantly recognisable and the minute they pop up you know that a spot of action is imminent.  It does seem a little odd that a very familiar piece of stock music (associated with the Cybermen) is used here, but maybe Camfield was unaware it had been used before or possibly it was felt that it didn’t matter that it had previously featured.

Favourite moment during this scene is Yeti who clutches his eyes before falling over.  Since we know that John Levene was playing one of the Yeti, I like to think that he was the one here who decided to go extra-dramatic.  Corporal Blake’s rather horrible death – mainly due to Richardson Morgan’s blood-curdling screams – is something which lingers long in the memory.

Knight and the Doctor head up to ground level to look for some vital electronic spares.  Alas, Knight doesn’t make it as he’s mown down by the Yeti.  The last shot we have of Knight – his lifeless body slumped across a table – is yet another unsettling choice from Camfield and Knight’s sudden, unexpected death helps to raise the stakes.  If Knight, one of those characters you’d have assumed would make it to the end, can be killed then no-one is safe.

This is also borne out when every member of the Covent Garden party – except the Colonel – is killed.  And with Knight also dead and Arnold missing, Lethbridge-Stewart is pushed to breaking point.  The cliffhanger – showing the arrival of the Yeti together with a catatonic Travers – ratchets up the tension several more notches.

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Three

It’s a pity that this episode is still missing, although one day it might come back, yes it might come back ….

The major irritant is that it denies us our first glimpse of Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart (although since nothing from his debut existed in the archives before 2013 we can’t grumble about this too much).  And if there had to be a missing episode, then better this one than the next (the Covent Garden battle sequence would have been a much more serious loss).

Although Courtney’s characterisation as Lethbridge-Stewart is already pretty recognisable, the Colonel we see here isn’t quite the Brigadier that he’d become from The Invasion onwards.  Like some of the others (notably Chorley) he’s given the odd, off-key moment, suggesting he might have a secret to hide.   The fact that the story will shortly raise the spectre that the Intelligence must have a mole inside the fortress raises the possibility that the Colonel may well be a traitor ….

Chorley’s undergone something of a transformation from the previous episode.  Although things looked grim then, he was calm and in control. But now he’s suddenly become hysterical and desperate to leave.  Again, this suggests that he may be a man with his own agenda (or it could possibly be that he’s simply a coward, thinking only of his own survival).

The return of the Doctor energises the story – he quickly takes command and impresses the Colonel with his practical suggestions.  Lethbridge-Stewart also has ideas of his own – getting rid of the annoying Chorley by creating the superfluous job of “co-ordinator”, for example.

The Colonel is also in his element when leading a briefing.  Interestingly it’s Anne who is slightly riled when everybody’s presence is requested (“a briefing? We’re not in the army yet”) rather than the Doctor. It would be easy to imagine the Pertwee Doctor expressing a similar sentiment, but the Troughton incarnation was always much more easy-going.

But although the Doctor may appear to be pretty placid, it’s plain that there’s plenty going on under the surface. This was always one of the joys of Troughton’s Doctor. He didn’t need to dominate proceedings like Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker’s Doctors, he was content to sit, watch and wait. But when he spoke, people tended to listen – as seen with this short exchange between him and the Colonel.

DOCTOR: Someone here is in league with the Yeti. Maybe even controlling them.
DOCTOR: The main door didn’t open by itself, did it? It may be any one of us.
COLONEL: Me, perhaps?
DOCTOR: Perhaps.

Based on what we later know, the idea of Lethbridge-Stewart as a traitor is laughable, but at this point we simply don’t know him, so it’s completely possible.  And the fact that Troughton doesn’t overplay this moment – he delivers his lines in very a matter-of-fact way – makes the scene even more powerful.  Unlike some of his successors, Troughton tended to understand that less was more.

Jamie spends most of the episodes stuck in the tunnels with the rather annoying Evans, whilst Victoria’s back in the fortress with the others. She doesn’t do a great deal in the episode sad to say, partly this seems to be because Anne – a more dominant character – is rather taking the limelight. And it’s a pity that as the episode draws to a conclusion we’re left with a whimpering Victoria and a slightly angry Doctor (she’s told Chorley about the TARDIS – a bad move if he’s the agent of the Intelligence).

The sudden death of Weams (the first – but not the last – of the established characters to die) and the cliffhanger shot of a terrified Travers tangling with the Yeti (who have been mostly off-screen during this twenty-five minutes) provides a strong hook into the next episode where – hurrah! – the pictures will move again.

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode Two

With Patrick Troughton on holiday, episode two allows the others, especially Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, a little more screen-time.

Jamie and Victoria’s first encounter with the aged Travers is a treat.  Camfield favours lingering on Victoria’s delighted face as she instantly realises that the old man in front of them is the same person they encountered forty years earlier in Tibet.  It’s a nice touch that Victoria is several steps ahead of Jamie, who doesn’t recognise Travers to begin with at all (although when he finally twigs, his comment – “here, hasn’t he got old? Oh, but we’re very pleased to see you, Professor. Very pleased” – is lovely).

The formidable Anne tangles with another man and again easily bests him. Here, it’s the oily newspaperman Harold Chorley (Jon Rollason).

CHORLEY: Oh, for goodness sake, why is everybody being so evasive? Why won’t anybody answer any questions?
ANNE: Perhaps they’re afraid you’ll interpret them in your own inimitable style.
CHORLEY: And what does that mean, pray?
ANNE: It means you have a reputation for distorting the truth. You take reality and you make it into a comic strip. In short, Mister Chorley, you are a sensationaliser.
CHORLEY: You smug little redbrick university ….
ANNE: Don’t say it, Mister Chorley. I have a very quick temper and very long claws.

Ouch! It’s interesting that although Web was made some fifty years ago, Chorley’s character – a unscrupulous journalist – is still a very recognisable one. The more things change ….

Jack Woolgar gives a lovely performance as Staff Sergeant Arnold. Arnold is your archetypical NCO – a gruff, no-nonsense type who’s easily able to keep his subordinates in order. Amongst his charges is the familiar face of Richardson Morgan (as Corporal Blake). Morgan would later turn up in The Ark in Space. Also good value is Stephen Whitaker as Craftsman Weams.

The arrival of Driver Evans (Derek Politt) adds a little levity to the story. He’s a comic, cowardly Welshman (if his accent wasn’t obvious enough, then the fact he turns up singing the Welsh national anthem provides the audience with another clue as to his nationality. Not the subtlest of characterisations then).

The Yeti look very good when lumbering through the tunnels on film. When they pop up on videotape it’s fair to say that they’re slightly less impressive, but Camfield is still a good enough director to ensure that they don’t look completely ridiculous (other directors might not have been so successful on this score).

There’s already a nice sense of claustrophobia and unease throughout this instalment, which increases as the story progresses. Although the Troughton era tended to overdose on base-under-siege stories, when done well (as here) they’re gripping entertainment. By the end of the second episode, the parameters of the story have been established – a small group of heroes isolated in the underground and menaced by the Yeti on all sides.

With Victoria lost in the tunnels and the Doctor still missing, things are nicely set up for episode three.

Doctor Who – The Web of Fear. Episode One

Following the news of Deborah Watling’s death, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to reach for this story.  Back in the mid eighties though, if you wanted to see Victoria in action you were limited to either the second episode of The Abominable Snowman, episode three of The Enemy of the World or the first episode of this one (and that was always supposing that you were able to obtain a pirate VHS from a friendly contact).

It’s very pleasing that season five is now much better represented than it was back then and, for me, it’s the two stories returned in 2013 – The Enemy of the World and this one – which are the real jewels in the crown.

I first encountered Web 1 back in the late eighties, on a pirate tape along with a selection of other orphaned Hartnell and Troughton episodes (a bit like an early Lost in Time then, although the picture quality sometimes left a little to be desired).  It’s therefore an episode which I’m very familiar with, having rewatched it countless times across the decades (always wondering whether the rest of the story would maintain this strong opening).

Non-controversial statement – Douglas Camfield was Doctor Who‘s best director.  It’s easy to see why he directed more stories than anybody else – his skill at crafting intriguing picture compositions (both in the studio and on film) was second to none and there’s plenty of examples to be found in this opener.

Since studio time was always limited, most directors wouldn’t spend too long on creating interesting visual images – simply getting the actors to hit their marks and deliver their lines without bumping into the scenery seemed to be the top priority.  Camfield, possibly due to the fact that he ran his productions with a military precision, was quite different as he was able to find the time to craft pleasing shot selections.

A good example can be found in the early TARDIS scenes.  The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, staring at the scanner screen, are positioned with the Doctor in front, Victoria behind him and Jamie at the back.  In order to make this shot work, all three actors had to hit their marks exactly whilst the cameraman also had to be in precisely the right place.  If anybody was slightly off, then the composition wouldn’t work.  Many directors would simply have elected to line them up side by side (this would have been easier to shoot, but also would have looked unnatural – Peter Davison raises this point several times on his audio commentaries – the way that certain directors shot the TARDIS scenes very flatly).

I assume the reason why the confrontation between Travers (Jack Watling) and Julius Silverstein (Frederick Schrecker) is recorded on film was because the underground sets took all the available studio space.  Camfield always had an affinity with film (no surprise that he later graduated to all-film series like The Sweeney) which makes this scene a creepy pleasure.  It’s true that Jack Watling gives a very broad performance (“stubborn old goat!”) and his facial contortions are something to behold, but presumably he was playing the part as written.

Strong female characters aren’t terribly common during this period of the show, so Travers’ daughter Anne (Tina Packer) stands out rather.  A scientist in her own right, she’s acidly polite when the hapless Captain Knight (Ralph Watson) attempts to clumsily chat her up.

KNIGHT: What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?
ANNE: Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d like to be a scientist, so I became a scientist.
KNIGHT: Just like that?
ANNE: Just like that.

Compare and contrast this with The Invasion (which in its early drafts would have featured return appearances for Anne and Professor Travers). Anne’s replacement – Isobel – is a much more pallidly drawn character who’s happy to entertain romantic overtures from Knight’s counterpart – Captain Jimmy Turner.

Whilst I may love The Web of Fear dearly, it’s not a story that makes a lick of sense.  Firstly, if the Great Intelligence’s plan was to ensnare the Doctor, why envelop London in a web?  After all this wasn’t the early seventies – a time when the Doctor was resident on modern-day (to the viewers) Earth.

And the moment when the museum Yeti changes before our eyes from the cuddly Abominable Snowman version into the sleeker Web of Fear model might look good, but again it’s something which isn’t at all logical.

Quibbles apart, this opener effectively sets the story up.  We know what we’re dealing with (Yetis in the Underground!) and we’ve also been introduced to a varied cast of military characters who we’ll get to know better as the serial progresses.

For many long years there seemed to be little hope that we’d ever get to see the rest of the story.  And then in 2013 something remarkable happened …..

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Strange Partners

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Lucian Currie (Griffith Jones) wants his business partner Vickers (Patrick Troughton) dead and attempts to force Brady to carry out the deed ….

Strange Partners is one of the more satisfying Invisible Man episodes.  It’s powered by Jones’ portrayal of Lucian Currie, a man who is clearly teetering on the edge of sanity but nonetheless is still able to generate an air of civility.

Currie’s scheme is straightforward – Vickers has a weak heart, so if Brady punches him hard then the shock should be enough to kill him.   Because Vickers always travels with a devoted bodyguard, Ryan (Robert Cawdron), Currie can’t carry out the crime himself, hence his need for an invisible man.

And how can Currie guarantee Brady’s co-operation?  Currie has a dog, Juno, trained to detect Brady, even when invisible, and he’s more than capable of stopping and killing him if he attempts to escape.

Currie makes great play of the fact that Juno’s a killer, although it’s plain that the dog chosen to play the part is rather more benign – some of the dubbed on barks are fairly obvious it has to be said.

Griffith Jones’ career started in the 1930’s and amongst his early notable appearances was the role of the Earl of Salisbury in Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film adaptation of Henry V.  He’s easily the standout performer here – next to him Brady seems somewhat pallid (although since Currie holds the upper hand in the early part of the story that’s reasonable enough).

Patrick Troughton has less to do and his heavy make-up – no doubt intended to indicate Vickers’ illness – is a tad distracting.  Jack Melford, another of those actors with an incredibly impressive list of credits, has the small, but key, role of Collins – Currie’s butler and partner in crime.

When Currie and Collins make a late break for freedom, we’re treated to another example of Currie’s instability.  He’s driving in an increasingly reckless way, which concerns Collins, but Currie is past the point of rational thought – if they crash and die, so be it.

Restricting much of the action to Currie’s house is one of the reasons why the story works as well as it does.  Some other episodes attempted to cover too much ground which could be a problem with only twenty five minutes to play with.  Strange Partners, by being more restrictive, turns out to be a more rewarding experience.

Possibly the only major weakness revolves around Vickers’ amazing powers of recovery.  Early on, Currie does admit that although Vickers is an ill man, he’s hung on for the last fifteen years (which is quite impressive).  Even more impressive is the fact that after he’s attacked by Currie (who used the confusion caused by Brady’s escape attempt) he still manages to survive.  Given all we’ve been told, Vickers should really have been dead –  but possibly there was a slight squeamishness about this occurring in a programme which was pretty family friendly.

Aside from the solid story, there’s a couple of nice invisible moments at the start.  We see Brady winding up his clock and preparing for a good night’s sleep (an indentation in the mattress).  Overall, this is a good ‘un.

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