36 – The Three Doctors

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

37 – The Romans

This was not a serial I expected to enjoy when I bought the Rescue/Romans boxset, and I am sure is a story several fans will be surprised to see so high in my list of enjoyed stories. Yet it is deservedly in the top fifty classic Doctor Who adventures for me, a charming story that is both well told and engaging in equal measure!

The TARDIS crew land in the ancient Roman empire, having just rescued Vicki in the previous adventure. By a series of extraordinary coincidences, all four travellers find themselves at the court of Caesar Nero, where the Doctor is mistaken for the renowned lyre player Maximus Pettulian; the Doctor and Vikki having elected to travel to Rome, and Ian and Barbara after being kidnapped by slave traders from the villa the travellers had been staying in.

This story caused uproar at the time as it very much plays out as a farce rather than a serious historical drama, in sharp contrast to Season 1 historical adventures Marco Polo, The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror. It is reputed that Hartnell’s performance came in for particular ire, occasionally playing the clown, and on one occasion jokingly wrestling with a would-be assassin. Far from lowering the tone, I feel the farcical aspect is a necessary remedy to what would otherwise be a grim tale. Nero was one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants of the Roman empire, a facet more than alluded to in this tale when he orders Ian to battle a gladiator for nothing more than his own entertainment.

The net result is that despite several grim features: the dehumanising sight of Barbara sold into personal slavery; Ian rowing on a slave galley; Nero’s wife Poppea trying to poison Barbara when she attracts the unwelcome attentions of the lascivious Nero; the tale works and is enjoyable. There is plenty of black humour – Nero orders his food taster to sample his wine when warned by the Doctor that it is poisoned, and when the slave dies, observes dispassionately: “So, he was right.” Strangely this black humour is accented by the slapstick – Nero’s comical chasing of Barbara around the palace making us laugh at his absurdity rather than cringe at his creepiness for example. The pièce de résistance is of course when the Doctor mimicks the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, pretending to play his lyre before Nero while insisting only those of refinement will be able to hear the melody.

The highest compliment I can pay this adventure is that it would not at all have been out of place if it featured in modern Doctor Who. The story is a fantastic adventure, wonderfully told, and with great and engaging characters. It has aged surprisingly well, and it is wonderful that this classic Hartnell adventure was not lost in the 70s.

 

Coming up next … “Wonderful chaps. All of them.”

Are we getting hints The Smugglers is back?

The Doctor Who missing episodes brigade have been rumbling again following a series of tweets by Anneke Wills, in which she is photographed in the locations she appeared in 50 years ago as Polly in the currently missing Hartnell adventure The Smugglers:

As the eighth Doctor would remind us, “humans [are] always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.” But nobody can quite resist the urge to speculate why these photos are appearing online, and being retweeted by a certain Philip Morris. In typical “looks like a dog, barks like a dog” fashion, fans are wondering if this is a very thinly veiled hint that The Smugglers is no longer missing, and is instead close to a release.

We ought to know well enough by now to treat the willful optimism of Doctor Who fans with all of the caution we can muster. I note the speculation, and don’t rule it out given that there have been rumblings for a long time that Web of Fear and Enemy of the World were not the only Doctor Who episodes recovered. But I don’t conclude that these tweets constitute definite proof that The Smugglers is back – I’ll only believe it when I see it.

What is fascinating is to speculate where the prints have come from, if indeed The Smugglers has been found in a salvageable condition. Working from the helpful guide on The Destruction of Time website, we can construct the following scenarios:

Scenario One: The Sierra Leone prints survived

As is documented in Wiped! it is documented that a near complete run of the Hartnell era, which included most of the currently missing Season 3, was destroyed during the civil wars in that country. It is assumed that these prints are definitely gone, and to be fair I think it unlikely that the prints somehow survived the conflict. It is an outside possibility, albeit extremely remote, that the prints were moved elsewhere before the conflict destroyed the film depot.

Scenario Two: The Zambia prints survived

As I commented on Monday, Philip Morris has previously led us to believe that he had searched Zambia and found nothing there. Let us suppose however that perhaps the prints were not still in Zambia, but instead had been moved on to another location, and that Morris succeeded in finding this location. Then we would be entertaining the prospect I spelt out yesterday – the only prints not in Zambia at some point were Mission to the Unknown, Dalek Master Plan, Tenth Planet, Power of the Daleks, Evil of the Daleks, Fury from the Deep, The Wheel in Space, and The Invasion. In short – if The Smugglers has come from surviving prints from Zambia, then the omnirumour is true.

Scenario Three: The Singapore prints survived

Just a little delving into the Singapore prints reveals some of the headaches involved. As BroaDWcast reveal, the Singapore prints came from and went to a variety of places, so it seems unlikely that they are sitting neatly in one place, in the style of Jos. The one cause for optimism is that if these prints were not sent back to London to be destroyed, and were not destroyed in Singapore, then there is hope that the entirety of these prints exists somewhere. If every story that was shown in Singapore is still around, that means the only story missing is The Dalek Master Plan.

Scenario Four: The Prints from Australia or New Zealand survived

This scenario has always been assumed to be as unlikely as the recovery of the Sierra Leone prints. Most of these prints made their way back to the UK and were destroyed, or else where destroyed in where they finally rested – most of the Australian prints being destroyed there, some of the New Zealand prints being sent on to Hong Kong and Singapore and then destroyed when used. Part of the evidence that backs this up is that the majority of surviving prints that were in Australia and New Zealand are orphans, not complete serials. For this scenario to be true, it follows that the majority of these prints have ended up with private collectors, or alternatively our fifth scenario:

Scenario Five: The ‘extra’ audition prints

You don’t need to spend long delving into the fates of Doctor Who’s overseas prints to see that it was far from straightforward – bicycling prints from one country to the next without adequate paperwork has made it a task akin to archaeology to work out how many prints there were, and where they finally ended up – which is precisely the task Philip Morris took up. The above assumptions assume we know of, and can account for, every print sent overseas. If, as this post explains, there was at least one additional set of audition prints doing the rounds, then all bets are off as to what content is back. We simply cannot know for sure what prints were included or excluded from that package.

Conclusions:

If Philip Morris has indeed found The Smugglers it will give fans great cause for optimism. While the ideal would be a Jos style discovery of an entire collection of missing Doctor Who, even the survival of one lone story would give fans hope that other stories that were bicycled with it may also have survived.

44 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

I have to confess to two heresies – that the first version I saw of this adventure was the movie version featuring Peter Cushing as the Doctor; and that I didn’t really enjoy this adventure when I first saw it on UK Gold. I think I expected more, having enjoyed The Daleks very very much indeed when I had first watched it. In time however, I have only come to enjoy and appreciate this story more and more.

This story is striking for two significant events – the return of the Daleks, and the departure of Susan. Until this point Doctor Who had seen the TARDIS crew go from one adventure to the next, not returning to any previous adversary. Given the mass popularity of the Daleks after their first adventure, it could only be a matter of time before the deadly mutants would make their return to viewers’ TV screens. While it seems an inevitability with the clarity of 50 years’ hindsight, we must not forget how much of a delighted shock it must have been when the Dalek emerged from the Thames at the end of episode one. (Don’t ask why the Dalek thought taking a swim in the Thames was a good idea, it just did!)

The story itself is strongly influenced by the legacy of Nazi occupied Europe, not least in the Daleks’ continued radio broadcasts to the hidden human rebels. Watched with this legacy in mind, the story becomes even more powerful, and not just a straightforward adventure, exploring the deep concept of having one’s liberty taken away and having to fight against the odds. The show is made all the more powerful for being filmed in contemporary London – while nothing will persuade me to enjoy the two minutes of bongo music that accompanies the set piece, the sight of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge or swarming around Trafalgar Square is truly astounding, and would have been even more so at the time it was first shown.

Of course the story sees the Doctor and his human allies defeat the Dalek menace – in a theme that is later revisited in the new series episode The Stolen Earth the Daleks are attempting to mine the core of the planet and turn it into a battle station. But while the story is simply enjoyed for what it is, I think the more significant moment comes as Susan falls in love with earth resistance fighter David Campbell (amusingly given the surname Cameron in the book adaptation!) and elects to remain behind on earth. Hartnell’s farewell speech is truly moving, and in many ways this would set the tone for Ian and Barbara’s departure in The Chase and indeed for Hartnell’s own departure in The Tenth Planet.

This makes The Dalek Invasion of Earth not just a very good story, but a very important story. The precedent was set to bring back previous foes, and even to bring them to our own planet. And it was acknowledged that the show did not have to die when the main cast changed, paving the way for the most radical change two years later. It may not be as good a story as the first Dalek adventure, but it is certainly a story that I am glad has survived fully intact to be enjoyed today!

48 – The Tenth Planet

This review really needs no introduction. To long-time fans of Doctor Who, this is quite possibly the most important surviving story, even surpassing An Unearthly Child or The Daleks. While these first two stories ensured that Doctor Who even became the hit that it did, The Tenth Planet was the means by which Doctor Who ensured it could continue to be a family favourite for decades to come.

The story behind The Tenth Planet is best represented in the 50th Anniversary docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time. It shows how Doctor Who had become a massive success, but the health of lead actor William Hartnell was growing increasingly frail. At this point, the producers had a dilemma – while they had successfully replaced the supporting cast twice over (with new companions Ben and Polly replacing the Season 3 pairing of Steven and Vikki/Dodo) could they really replace the lead actor?

It came to a head in Season 4. While the season began with (currently missing) The Smugglers, this had in fact been recorded in the Season 3 block, and held over until the new season, making The Tenth Planet the effective first story in Season 4. The producers meanwhile took the bold decision not only to recast the role of the Doctor, but to completely change his character. Hartnell, to his infinite credit, consented to appear in one more recorded story before passing the baton on to Patrick Troughton, an actor who would interpret the role completely differently to Hartnell before him.

All of this would have been for naught but for a great story – and The Tenth Planet is indeed a great story. Fans of the Troughton era will recognise the genesis of the ‘Base-Under-Seige’ style stories that would typify Seasons 4 and 5, but at the time this was a relatively new development. The story also benefits from the introduction of a foe who would go on to rival the Daleks for popularity – the eerie and unnerving Cybermen. While appearing in a guise that would not be resurrected for their return in The Moonbase, the Cybermen very quickly establish themselves as a significant menace, and many fans deem these Cybermen most scary for their distinct similarity to mankind.

The story sees the Doctor, Ben and Polly arrive at Snow Cap Base at the South Pole just as a new planet appears in Earth’s orbit, that bears a striking resemblance to earth. The inhabitants of the titular Tenth Planet (back in the days when Pluto was still a planet …) are the Cybermen, who explain that their planet of Mondas went on a journey into space and has returned. In the interim, they sacrificed their humanity by replacing all of their essential body parts with plastic and metallic alternatives, and have now returned to make Earth like Mondas.

The story is superbly paced and a crescendo of suspense and tension with neat flourishes of action. It all builds to a head in the final (sadly missing) episode, in which the Cybermen are defeated when Mondas absorbs too much energy and explodes, depriving the Cybermen of the power sources they rely upon for survival. The most significant moment however, is when the increasingly frail Doctor collapses upon the floor of the TARDIS at the end of episode 4, and his features transform into those of a younger man. It is this scene, more than anything else, that makes The Tenth Planet so crucial for Doctor Who. This first regeneration paved the way for an actor to serve as the Doctor, and then pass the torch on to the next Doctor. It paved the way for the show to be continuously re-imagined, re-thought, and re-created. Put simply – without The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who would not be around today.

The Tenth Planet is not just a crucial story in Doctor Who’s history, but also a personal favourite – one I was very glad to watch on VHS when it first came out, even if I was somewhat confused when it changed to tele-snaps for the final episode! Indeed, that is my only regret for this story – that we are not able to see the original part four, nor able to see Pat Troughton take his first steps in the following serial, The Power of the Daleks.

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You can buy the DVD of the Tenth Planet on Amazon for £6.99

Next Time: Another Doctor bids adieu, as the Timelords finally catch up with the Doctor …

65 – The Chase

Having yesterday reviewed the serial that follows this one (The Time Meddler) we now look at a very significant story in Doctor Who’s history. Following the popularity of the Daleks’ first appearance in Season One, demand was high to bring them back on screen as soon as possible, hence their appearance in earlier Season Two adventure The Dalek Invasion of Earth. In that story the momentous decision was taken to allow Carol Ann Forde to leave her role as Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter. In this serial, the show takes an even more decisive step away from the origins of An Unearthly Child, and bids goodbye to Ian and Barbara. One appreciates afresh what this must have meant for William Hartnell in the docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time – surely paving the way for his own transition at the beginning of Season Four …

Aside of this significance, there is of course a highly entertaining story to be told, with the Daleks determining that the Doctor and his crew must be put to death for crimes against the Daleks, determining to pursue him through all of time and space in their own time machine until he is exterminated once and for all. In that regard, the serial bears certain resemblances to earlier story The Keys of Marinus, insomuch that each episode effectively operates as a standalone adventure, in which the TARDIS crew narrowly escape the Daleks at each turn. Along the way they confuse an American tourist on the Empire State Building, get lost in a funfair haunted house, almost fall for a (not very realistic) doppleganger of the Doctor, and reveal the real reason why the Marie Celeste was found with no crew on board …

The story concludes with a face off between the Daleks and one-time villains the Mechanoids – a robotic foe it was erroneously hoped might one day rival the Daleks. Sadly, this is only true for dedicated fans of the show, the robots not quite capturing the public imagination in the same way. The battle enables the Doctor not only to escape with Vicki (and new companion Steven Taylor) but also to use the Daleks’ own time travel machine to send Ian and Barbara back to the 1960s. I had a much greater sense of loss coming to this serial afresh, having grown to know and love Ian and Barbara through their adventures to this point. With Susan I confess there was a slight element of being glad she was becoming her own person … but for Ian and Barbara it’s hard not too feel sorry that they left, even though it was absolutely what they deserved. The doctor speaks for all fans when he says with some emotion “I shall them. Yes, I shall miss them.”

At six episodes long, this is a story that you need to commit a block of time to, and is rather more disjointed than a Doctor Who story usually would be. For all of these quibbles, it is still a great adventure to watch. The Daleks are always good value for their menace (and even their comedic value in the Marie Celeste and Haunted House scenes), and the main crew are outstanding. I have to concede that watching the VHS, I wasn’t sold by my initial impressions of Steven Taylor – which is all the more reason it is a pity much of his era as companion has been lost – The Time Meddler alone demonstrates what he great companion he must have been.