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 must begin this review with a frank admission. My original list of classic Doctor Who episodes did not contain either The Web of Fear nor The Enemy of the World, which in the summer of 2013 were still (officially) missing, presumed lost forever. To my very great shame, I concede that not only was The Enemy of the World not high on the list of stories I wanted recovered, I was distinctly underwhelmed when it was announced as one of two lost adventures recovered by Philip Morris in Nigeria. It had simply never registered on my radar.
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.
Back in 1973, a bright spark at the BBC suddenly realised that Doctor Who had reached a significant milestone – its tenth season. To mark the occasion, the producers took the bold step to write a story featuring every one of the Doctor’s incarnations, and the resulting story was entitled exactly what it was: The Three Doctors.
Of all the ‘multi-doctor’ stories, I believe that this one is the best. Unlike The Five Doctors it is not overly self-referential, instead telling quite a good story; unlike The Two Doctors it is clear and cohesive, and reasonably well told! It has to be said that, in my view, it is the participation of the Doctor’s first three incarnations in one story that makes what might have been a quite ordinary U.N.I.T. adventure into a truly great one, and one that is a pleasure to enjoy.
At the beginning of this story the Doctor is still trapped on earth; but having found a variety of different ways to circumvent the BBC’s restriction (or rather, dressing up in different ways sending the Doctor off on missions for the Timelords) the BBC finally gave up and decided it was time to let the Doctor off his leash. The narrative device to restore the Doctor’s freedom was for Gallifrey itself to come under attack from an unknown source, requiring the help of the Doctor to overcome it. When it transpires he requires the assistance of another Timelord, the High Council decide there is only one other person they can spare – the Doctor’s past self!
The villain of the piece is one of the original Timelords – a chap called Omega who harnessed the power of a star near Gallifrey, creating the conditions in which the Timelords would be able to travel in time. He himself was thought lost in the resultant supernova, but had in fact been sucked into a parallel anti-matter universe. The force of his will enables the world to exist, but he cannot escape it without someone else willing it to exist. He is therefore seized of two purposes – to destroy the Timelords (who he felt abandoned him) and to bring to himself another Timelord to take his place and enable him to return to the matter universe.
The Three Doctors does require you to shrug your shoulders and go along for the ride – but it is an extremely enjoyable ride! The scenes between Pertwee and Troughton are genuinely funny rather than forced, leaving it only a pity that Hartnell was so unwell that he could not participate as fully as one otherwise would have hoped, appearing instead in pre-recorded scenes from the TARDIS monitor. It also feels like the beginning of the end for the U.N.I.T. family – at the end of this story the Doctor is given his freedom by the Timelords in gratitude for defeating Omega. As The Brigadier and Benton depart to ‘mop things up’ while the Doctor prepares the TARDIS for take-off, one rather senses that the dismemberment of the U.N.I.T. family, which would start in the season finale The Green Death was already taking place.
The Three Doctors is by no means the most complicated Doctor Who you will ever watch – but it is good fun, easy to follow, and features some extremely enjoyable acting – not least from the three leading men. As the Brigadier famously remarks: “Wonderful chaps. All of them.”
Next time: A savage introduction to a new companion, facing against a schizophrenic computer
Merry Christmas readers! I’ve been sitting on a review of The Power of the Daleks for a while, and so I have decided to use the Christmas break to pen my thoughts on the wonderful animation provided by BBC Worldwide.
As long term readers of the blog will recall, Power was one of the three stories I was most keen to see recovered, for the reasons I set out in this blog post. Indeed, so curious was I to sample Patrick Troughton’s sadly missing first adventure that I eventually gave in and watched the Loose Cannon recon – and it only increased my excitement for the animated release when BBC Store confirmed the animation project.
Now I have watched the animated reconstruction … several times. In such a short space of time, I think that is probably the highest complement I can pay The Power of the Daleks – one watch (even two!) simply has not been enough to enjoy a high quality adventure. I was nervous what standard the animation would be, with the quality varying substantially between previous BBC releases (The Moonbase was excellent, The Ice Warriors less so). In the end, I need not waste any words commenting on the quality of the animation – it is excellent, and a worthy alternative in the absence of the original prints. Sure there is the odd niggle here and there, but one is not only able to follow the story, crucially one is able to enjoy the story and establish some degree of empathy with the characters.
Which comes to the crux of this review: Power of the Daleks is an excellent piece of Doctor Who. The very best stories combine a good story, good characters and a good cast – and the most excellent stories have that extra edge that leaves you hooked. Power of the Daleks excels on all of these counts and then some. Even before you add the unique variable that this is the first regeneration story, it is already a fine example of Doctor Who well done, and would stand up well if it were any other Doctor, and indeed not even a regeneration story. As it is, Patrick Troughton’s first foray into the role of the Doctor is the cherry on the icing that makes this story exceptional.
The plot itself is relatively straightforward: the newly regenerated Doctor arrives with his startled companions Polly and Ben on the planet Vulcan. The earth colony on the planet has three resident challenges: a group of discontented colonists planning a rebellion against the governor; a discontented member of the administration plotting to use the rebels to usurp the governor, and an obsessed scientist who has discovered a space capsule containing what he takes to be three machines – but that the Doctor has no hesitation in identifying as dormant Daleks! When the Doctor witnesses the murder of an Examiner sent from Earth, he steps into the shoes of the Examiner to investigate the mysterious circumstances of the colony. As the wonderful extras explain, much of the tension in the episode stems from the Doctor (and the viewer) knowing that the Daleks are evil and not to be trusted, while the earth colonists are deceived by the Daleks’ pledge of servitude. The viewer knows full well that sooner or later the Daleks will betray their human ‘masters’, and the tension ramps up as the schemes of the rebels, the discontented administator, and the Daleks themselves reach a dramatic and violent climax.
In fact, if one had to identify one reason why this story is a triumph, it is precisely that word: tension. Power of the Daleks is a glorious lesson that modern television writers could heed well – sometimes the best way to develop a drama is to allow the tension to ramp up slowly, carefully, and deliciously much more slowly than the viewer finds comfortable. Undoubtedly one could argue that without the regeneration and some of the background scenes, this could easily be a four part adventure. I think that would be a shame however – the slower pace allows you to enjoy the excellent characters – and while we can only judge by the voices of the original cast how good their performances were, it seems the cast were all on top form; most importantly, at no stage is there any sense of a cast member being superfluous – each plays their role and plays it well. You find yourself draw in and emphasising with the characters, and hoping that somehow the Doctor can help the colonists to defeat the Daleks.
That said, there are two outstanding stars in the performance who deserve particular praise. Top of the list has to be the incomparable Patrick Troughton – right from “It’s over!” he absolutely nails the part of the Doctor. The BBC took a bold decision to completely recast the role of the Doctor, and if it had backfired they could well have pulled the plug after this adventure. Right from the start Troughton puts his own inimitable charm upon the role, and this is certainly a much better introduction to Troughton than the more comic persona he adopts in his earliest surviving episodes in The Underwater Menace. The animators deserve a lot of credit for taking the soundtrack with all of Troughton’s character, and managing to convey something of that in their animations – it is a simple fact that Patrick Troughton not only made this story a success, he also saved Doctor Who for future generations.
As a brief aside, it is worth saying that the regeneration (referred to in the story simply as a ‘renewal’) is both better explored and less explored than in future stories. The first ten minutes are entirely focused on the TARDIS, where Ben and Polly try to work out who this ‘new’ man is. Their suspicion and incredulity is well played, and essential for helping the viewer to weigh up the ‘new’ Doctor for themselves. In the end, the Doctor throws himself straight into the action, almost akin to Matt Smith in The Eleventh Hour, and demonstrating the fundamental continuity to the departing William Hartnell by doing what the Doctor does best – getting involved! I think for the first ever regeneration it was very well handled, and it was a delight to experience it.
The other stars are the Daleks themselves, in what is perhaps their most clever and nuanced appearance in the show. Most often we are used to the Daleks adopting their standard method of Dalek Diplomacy (“Seek, locate, exterminate!”) – so it comes to a shock to the senses when the episode two cliffhanger has the Dalek professing “I am your ser-vant!” The craftiness of the Daleks is a joy to behold, and especially the moments when the Daleks momentarily forget that they are meant to be concealing their true natures: witness the Dalek correcting himself from “Daleks are b- are different to humans!” in episode three; or the delicious moment when a Dalek, exhulting in the prospect of their own power supply, says: “With static power, THE DALEKS WILL BE TWICE AS … *pause* … useful.” There is something scarily human in the way the Daleks reason and plot; a potent reminder that their appeal was not least due to a sober reminder of what humanity can become when it gives in to its own worst instincts.
Even without the original footage I am ready to make the controversial statement that I think Power of the Daleks is the best Doctor Who story ever. It certainly runs my top three very very close, and the only doubt remaining is precisely because we are not able to see the original footage. I feel confident however, that were Philip Morris to work a miracle and recover Power of the Daleks against all of the odds, this story would justifiably take its place as one of the best regarded stories in Doctor Who fandom. It is that good.
Back in the summer, in the heady days before the now infamous leak of the Power of the Daleks animation footage, there was only ever one candidate when I decided I wanted to sample a Loose Cannon reconstruction, and that was Patrick Troughton’s first adventure. Right from the very start of this blog I made no secret that, like most fans, I really wanted to experience the disconcerting sensation of watching Patrick Troughton make his mark on a role that, until that point, had been solely defined by William Hartnell.
So that was my plan. Until we had some confirmation I would watch the Loose Cannon reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks. Then this showed up:
That put me in a bit of quandary. Should I press ahead with my commentary on the Power of the Daleks given that we were about to experience a much fuller reconstruction of the lost episodes? In the end, as evidenced by your reading of these words, I thought it gave even more reason to write the blog. There are some fans out there that prefer Loose Cannon recons to the official animations. This post gives the chance to share my impressions of these reconstructions, and then (in just over a week – how exciting!) to compare it to the new animation.
So let me begin with an explanatory note for those unfamiliar with what Loose Cannon recons are. As noted in previous posts, and especially my post on The Macra Terror, there are two principal ways that missing footage has nevertheless survived – off air fan recordings of the audio, and tele-snaps taken of the live footage. A company known as Loose Cannon (for more details, read here) took it upon themselves to combine audio and tele-snaps to produce a rough approximation of what the on screen action would have been like. While their website is now sadly missing, their videos are still available on sites like youtube and daily motion.
I am already familiar with what it is like to watch such a reconstruction as part of a largely complete episode. When The Tenth Planet was released on VHS it featured a recon of the missing episode 4 that was a combination of telesnaps and audio, and a similar recon was used for The Web of Fear episode 3, and (rather less successfully) for episodes 1 and 4 of The Underwater Menace. I did wonder however what it would be like to watch a completely missing story made up of just tele-snaps.
I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and it was a joy to experience The Power of the Daleks in this way. Undoubtedly the strength of the story itself contributed to that, being a gripping and clever tale that built the tension wonderfully across the six episodes. Even more than that though, I felt the presentation was a reasonable substitute given the absence of the original episodes, never once feeling like I couldn’t understand what was going on. In contrast to just listening to The Macra Terror I found it significantly easier to picture what was happening, and fill in the gaps between the different shots.
The recon also, tantalisingly, includes such surviving footage as exists, including a few pitifully brief shots of Troughton in episode 1, filmed by an amateur viewer pointing a cine camera at his television during the broadcast. It makes watching Doctor Who in his way arguably even more painful, as you are able to get a glimpse of what it would have been like, piquing one’s desire for the original prints to somehow, miraculously, be found. It also pointed out all of the little quirks and mannerisms in Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, sadly lost when his episodes were wiped. If the animations truly mean that Phil Morris will never find the original prints of The Power of the Daleks, then it is a huge loss for British TV heritage.
The bottom line is that I could very easily see myself dipping into the Loose Cannon range in future for other missing stories. Alongside novelisations, they are an excellent way to reimagine lost classics. As we are about to discover on Saturday however, I still suspect that the very best way to enjoy currently missing Doctor Who is through animations.
But all that will come in my forthcoming review of the Power of the Daleks animation!
Don’t forget – Power of the Daleks is set to be released at 5:50pm GMT on Saturday 5th November, 50 years to the day after the original broadcast on BBC One.
In February 2014 I faced a conundrum. The Moonbase had just been released on DVD with its missing episodes animated, but I could not bring myself to buy it. As I was to explain in this post, at that stage fandom was rife with rumours that almost the entire stock of lost classic Doctor Who had been recovered – what is popularly termed the ‘Omnirumour.’ The rumour refuses to die, but in the very least no Doctor Who fan honestly expects the imminent return of every missing episode.
This is now, but back then I was a bit at a loss. I’d been patiently building my DVD collection for eight years, and suddenly there was nothing else. At that stage I was reluctant to invest in audios, for much the same reason that I held off buying The Moonbase on DVD – I didn’t want to pay twice if there was the prospect of the episodes being recovered!
My solution was to take advantage of my shiny new Kindle, and to order up the mostly missing Pat Troughton adventure The Abominable Snowmen. At a very reasonable £3, I thought it would be an excellent foray into experiencing lost adventures through the medium of print, without committing to the potentially painful expenditure involved in audio CDs.
My experience with Doctor Who novelisations has proven something of a mixed bag – I couldn’t enjoy Silver Nemesis as a child because it was too different to the TV script, whereas the novelisations of Attack of the Cybermen and The TV Movie managed to make me enjoy and appreciate both a lot better. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started into The Abominable Snowmen.
As it is, I enjoyed the adventure so much that I was compelled to blog not long after that the BBC ought to animate the missing episodes! Terrance Dicks is rightly revered in Doctor Who circles as a wonderful story teller, and he tells this lost tale extremely well. While the action of a six part adventure is (of necessity) rather compacted, the story loses none of its charm or excitement.
While it is more accurate to say that The Web of Fear is the sequel to The Abominable Snowmen, featuring the return of Professor Travers, the Yetis, and The Great Intelligence, for fans like myself who never got to see The Abominable Snowmen when first broadcast it is oddly more appropriate to think of this story as the prequel to The Web of Fear – a Great Intelligence origins story if you like! Knowing what was to come did not really ruin the sense of wonder and exploration as Dicks unpacked the script and told the narrative of the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arriving at Detsen monastery in Tibet. The reader gets caught up in the terror of the Yeti menace, and develops empathy with the monks, and with the strange English adventurer Professor Travers.
Obviously, reading The Abominable Snowmen is no comparison to actually watching the episodes, but given that the prints are not meant to be coming back any time soon (or are they? Read my thoughts HERE ...) I found the novelisati0n a more than worthy substitute. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, and enjoyed it so much that I went on to buy the novelisations of The Moonbase and The Crusades. It remains my hope that BBC Worldwide will consider recommissioning eBooks for every missing adventure, enabling those fans born long after the episodes were junked the opportunity to discover these adventures.