I begin my top three Doctor Who adventures with a wonderful story that rounded off Jon Pertwee’s second season as the Doctor. It is a testament to the production team that they managed to work within the constraints of the Doctor’s enforced exile on Earth with such skill and creativity, and they saved the best in Season 8 until the very end.
The closing story of Jon Pertwee’s debut season is one of the finest pieces of fiction ever produced, not only for the story concept, but also for the peerless delivery of a very clever idea. Parallel universes are not a new concept by any means, and in 2017 might almost be considered old hat. Inferno however is one of the very best examples of using a parallel universe to make a good story into a great story – and the amazing thing is, that if the BBC hadn’t been facing financial pressures, it might not have happened …
As covered in last week’s blog, Doctor Who was headed towards an uncertain future in 1969. The show’s popularity had been waning over time, and lead actor Patrick Troughton was giving firm indications that he had little desire to stay on board for a fourth season as the Doctor. Into this mix, the decision was taken to trial a style of adventure that was to shape the next five seasons of Doctor Who; an adventure set not in the far reaches of space, the past, or the future, but on contemporary earth.
I was six years old when I discovered Doctor Who. Like most six year olds who discover Doctor Who, my first thought after discovering there were MORE stories was to want to see every possible Dalek adventure. So when I saw that the Day of the Daleks VHS cover was plastered with Daleks, I simply had to see it! I recall being disappointed at the time at how little the titular Daleks featured in the adventure, but still really enjoying the adventure. 25 years on, it’s still a firm favourite with many reasons to enjoy this four part story.
A confession dear readers. When I first compiled my classic Doctor Who countdown list, The Web of Fear was not even on it. It was the summer of 2013, I had almost finished collecting the entire Doctor Who DVD collection, and I ranked only those stories that had I had watched on VHS or DVD (hence The Invasion and The Tenth Planet were included, but The Moonbase was not). That all got knocked for six in October of that year, when we got what was probably the best present to the fans of all in the 50th anniversary year: the return and release of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear. Even then, I confess I restrained myself for a while – rumours abounded that the still missing episode 3 of Web had been recovered and would be released with the DVD. We have of course now learned that episode 3 was originally found with the other episodes and taken, but long before then I decided there was no sense in depriving myself of a mostly complete adventure.
I really don’t know where to begin in describing this simply extraordinary story. Back in the days of yore the BBC would include other videos for sale on the inside of their VHS covers. From this I learned there was a story with all five doctors (I think in my vibrant youth Six and Seven didn’t count …), the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master! I had to get my hands on it! In fact, so desperate was I for the serial that I had a proper huff with my dad when he joked that he hadn’t bought it, when in actual fact he had.
Terror of the Autons is a perfectly respectable four-part story, whose only crime is to pale in comparison to the first story to feature the Autons, Spearhead from Space. It is memorable for a whole series of first appearances, not least of which is the mercurial Roger Delgado as the original (and best) Master. From the very first Delgado is mesmerising – not only in terms of his hypnotic prowess, but his calm command of any situation he finds himself in (Steven Moffat take note!)