And so we come to number one! My absolute favourite story from the whole classic series of Doctor Who. Along the way we have reviewed some sensational adventures that are deservedly mentioned in the same breath, and others that require slightly more effort to love. Some adventures were genuinely difficult to place; even now I find myself looking at the list and wondering if one should be higher than another. For all of my pondering however, there was never any doubt which story would come first … the earliest adventure from the Patrick Troughton era to survive in its entirety; The Tomb of the Cybermen.
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
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.
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.