Douglas Camfield’s greatest Doctor Who hits

Although the original incarnation of Doctor Who attracted a number of inventive directors, the work of Douglas Camfield has always stood out. From his earliest contribution (capturing the fight between Za and Kal in The Firemaker) it was clear that he worked exceptionally well with film.

Having said that, he was also at home in the television studio, coordinating multi-camera vt sessions with military precision (both The Crusade and The Time Meddler offer ample evidence of this).

What follows are five of my favourite Camfield Doctor Who moments. No doubt on another day I would have put them in a different order (or indeed selected something totally different – the Yeti attack in Covent Garden and the Zygon woodland hunt were both strong possibilities for a while). Maybe next year I’ll give it another go and see what I come up with then ….

The Wheel of Fortune

The Doctor crosses verbal swords with the Earl of Leicester and comes off second best.

It’s probably true that few directors could have gone wrong with The Crusade, as the starting point (David Whitaker’s script) was such a rich one (although you can grumble that the story simply peters out – central characters disappearing abruptly, for example).

That said, the finished product still zings – thanks to Camfield’s casting and the performances he was able to wring out of his assembled players. There’s some nice film sequences dotted throughout the serial but this selected scene has always impressed me.

You’re a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.

The Seeds of Doom – Part Four

It has to be said that The Seeds of Doom is more than a little bit nasty. Possibly it’s age creeping up on me, but when I look at it now I tend to concede that maybe Mrs Whitehouse had a point ….

On another day I might have plumped for Chase’s death by compost machine, today it’s the pitiful sight of Keeler in his midway state between man and Krynoid. Mark Jones is excellent as the doomed Keeler whilst Tony Beckley excels as Chase (easily in the top five of Who’s humanoid villains).

The Invasion – Part Six

Is it just a coincidence that three of the series’ best villains – Mavic Chen, Tobias Vaughan and Harrison Chase – appeared in Camfield directed stories? I think not.

Yes, The Invasion is a bit flabby (there’s a point where the Doctor spends far too much time staring into a microscope and pulling worried faces) but the longueurs are worth enduring as you know another good moment is just around the corner.

In part six that first occurs when Vaughan invites Professor Watkins to shoot him. There’s plenty to enjoy in this short scene – such as when Vaughan’s mask of polite affability slips to reveal something very nasty underneath and also the beat where Watkins (but not the audience) is privy to what happened when he eventually plucked up enough courage to pull the trigger.

Terror of the Zygons – Part Two

As good as many of the UNIT stories were, everything did become a little cosy at times. This late UNIT effort by Camfield shows that the option was always there to go darker. And there’s no darker moment than when Zygon Harry attacks Sarah with a pitchfork. Throughout the story everything is played dead straight (even the emergence of the Skarasen wasn’t cause for a giggle). That applies to this scene too – the sight of the dying Zygon looks faintly comic but everyone’s resisting the temptation today to wink at the audience.

The Invasion – Part Six

Top of the Camfield Pops is this iconic cliffhanger. Years before I got the chance to see the surviving episodes (via a wobbly pirate VHS) the moment when the Cybermen stroll past St Paul’s Cathedral was already very familiar to me thanks to spending hours staring at a handful of photographs (one in the Doctor Who Monster Book if memory serves). This is archetypical Who – not least for the way it has (with a very limited budget) to convince the audience that London is under attack.

With about half a dozen Cybermen and a handful of human extras, Douglas Camfield was more than up to the task. And that’s why I love this cliffhanger so much. Making something out of virtually nothing has always been the Doctor Who way.

All five clips can be watched below, via these Twitter posts.