My sabbatical from blogging has lasted rather longer than the initial month I had forecast! To that end, I am going to get back into reviews – and so I am turning to those Doctor Who serials that did not get an honorable mention in my countdown – my favourite topic, the infamous missing episodes of Doctor Who! And I kick off with a story I’d held off buying in audio form for many months, not least when rumours began circulating that the serial was set for release on DVD – The Wheel in Space.
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.
We proceed briskly from the first regeneration story to the second, and to a story that deservedly is described as ‘epic.’ Much like Hartnell’s final adventure was also significant for the first appearance of the Cybermen, Patrick Troughton’s swansong is not only significant for his departure, but also for the first ever appearance of the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey (albeit unnamed in this story). While we had met another of the Doctor’s race before in The Time Meddler (and also in The Daleks’ Master Plan – but we can only speculate on this appearance), this was the first time they were named as Timelords, and the first time we were brought to the Doctor’s home.
The story itself is gargantuan – at ten episodes long it is certainly not fit for consuming in one go. I did so the first time I watched the story (on DVD) and learned very quickly this is not how one should watch it!
It is however a very clever and engaging drama – until episode 2 you are convinced that the Doctor has landed in World War One, and it is not until later it is revealed that they are on an alien world, where a number of different conflicts are played out in different war zones. Behind the scenes, a renegade Timelord known as the War Chief is aiding the native race to kidnap soldiers from earth’s historic conflicts, using them to build the ultimate warrior race.
The first nine episodes largely involve the Doctor resolving the crisis on the planet – and while he defeats the War Chief, it is at the cost of summoning the Timelords to help return the captured humans to their rightful time and place. Episode ten almost stands alone to focus on the dramatic moment that the Doctor is placed on trial for breaking the Timelord code to never interfere. At this stage, Patrick Troughton had decided that three years was enough, and had tendered his resignation to avoid becoming typecast. With Fraser Hines and Wendy Padbury also electing to leave, the producers took the opportunity to return Jamie and Zoe to their own times, having forgotten all but their first adventure with the Doctor. The Doctor meanwhile, would be sent into a permanent exile on earth, unable to travel through time, and with his appearance changed.
It is quite interesting to see how production decisions to completely recast the TARDIS team and to keep costs down by having adventures on earth, were worked out so well in the script. But to focus just on episode 10 is to do a massive disservice to the other nine episodes. The War Games is very much to be enjoyed at leisure rather than in haste, but is a fitting end to the Patrick Troughton era. In contrast to Planet of the Spiders, you feel more like one does at the end of Logopolis – rather sorry that the Doctor is saying goodbye …
This is quite an unusual story for me – a rare instance of a Doctor Who story that I have grown to like less over time rather than more. I suspect the principal reason behind this is that for a long time my family only owned three Patrick Troughton adventures on VHS – Tomb of the Cybermen, The Seeds of Death, and The Krotons. With such a small sample, the latter was quite well enjoyed – which I think reflects on the excellence of Troughton himself.
Why then the fall from grace? Quite possibly that although this is a perfectly enjoyable adventure, it is not the best Troughton adventure. Now that I have been able to enjoy classics like The Web of Fear and The Invasion, The Krotons is somewhat exposed as but a pale shadow compared to these stellar performances.
I concede this is somewhat harsh, because this is a quite well paced and enjoyable four part adventure, and deservedly in my top 50% of classic Doctor Who stories. It is notable as the first Doctor Who adventure to be penned by Robert Holmes, who would go on to write many classic adventures. It has to be said that the Krotons also make for good villains – threatening in their absence in the first two episodes, and imposing in their menace in the final two episodes. They would have made for excellent recurring villains.
Nor can you fault the rest of the cast – unlike in The Seeds of Death, I have the impression that the TARDIS crew wasn’t completely jaded by this point. That said, this serial also gives rise to the unfortunate line in which Troughton’s Doctor, speaking for all of the viewing audience, observes that Zoe’s intelligence gets somewhat annoying at times. Sadly, this is true – companions such as Nyssa showed that a companion could be intelligent without grating on the viewer, while companions like Adric made you long for the days when Jamie misunderstood everything the Doctor told him. Zoe never really worked for this reason – she was never annoying by any means, but it was difficult to like her.
The Krotons however is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, and certainly one that I am glad survived the cull of the BBC records.
The TARDIS hasn’t had a crew for a long time. It has usually had the Doctor plus one companion, but very rarely has it had a crew – by which I mean the Doctor plus at least two companions. Of course, there are two people we can blame for this:
Jon Pertwee, who insisted that he wanted his doctor to be an ‘action’ hero (thus negating the need for an active male companion) and …
Adric, who made the Davison era ‘crowded TARDIS’ experience so miserable that JNT became convinced that Peri was a good step forward (er …)
And yet, I found myself reflecting that some of the episodes I have enjoyed best have been enjoyable principally because of the interaction between the members of the TARDIS crew. And so (tomorrow) I will be facing off the two TARDIS crews that I think are the prime contenders for ‘best TARDIS crew’ – but first I wished to pay tribute to those crews who didn’t make the cut …
We simply cannot know …
Steven and Vicki
Steven and Dodo
Ben and Polly (and Jamie)
Sadly, we just do not know how good these TARDIS crews where (although with Dodo we can begin to make an educated and despairing guess …) I have enjoyed Steven’s performances in every story that has survived featuring him as a main companion (sadly, that’s just The Time Meddler; The Ark and The Gunfighters) and would really enjoy the opportunity to see how he got on with Vicki and Dodo over a longer period. I have a slight suspicion that his three stories with Vicki would far surpass his four stories alongside Dodo.
As I remarked previously in my review of The War Machines, I wish more material of Ben and Polly survived, as they seemed to make for a good team – in the very least alongside William Hartnell’s Doctor. Having now watched The Moonbase DVD release, the jury is out as to whether they made such a good team with Patrick Troughton, especially after Jamie joined the TARDIS crew.
As it is … for these TARDIS crews we simply don’t know …
Please. In the name of Heaven. Stop.
Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan
As the extras feature ‘Crowded TARDIS’ on the Castrovalva DVD points out – this crew was too heavy by one member. In Arc of Infinity we see that Nyssa would have made a great solo companion to the Fifth Doctor. Adric arguably aquits himself quite well in Keeper of Traken, and Tegan was exceptional in Kinda. Which one should have gone? I wouldn’t like to choose, but suffice to say three of them was too many.
Close … but no cigar
Jamie and Zoe
Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki
Tegan and Turlough
Firstly (as you have noticed) I am counting Ian and Barbara’s time as one, since Susan and Vicki effectively played the same role in the TARDIS crew. Vicki was probably a more fun companion than Susan, but Susan certainly had more mystery – making them both an even match. Ian and Barbara certainly made for an excellent crew alongside Hartnell’s Doctor – but again there is a sense that they didn’t need a pretty young companion just to get into trouble.
Tegan and Turlough meanwhile are an interesting proposition – right numbers (finally) for the Fifth Doctor, but the chemistry doesn’t quite work. One suspects this is partially because one never quite learns to trust (or love) Turlough, and Tegan’s character was perhaps too abrasive alongside that ambiguous character. Could have worked … not sure it did.
Meanwhile, I have made Jamie and Zoe distinct from Jamie and Victoria. I was struck watching Seasons 5 and 6 that Zoe does make a big difference to the crew – as the Doctor says in The Krotons – “That’s the trouble with Zoe – she’s too smart for her own good.” It made for a jolly crew under Captain Pat … but not quite a happy ship. This is a theme I will revisit in due course …
Which leaves … the contenders
As you have by now deduced, that leaves two contenders – the Season 5 crew of Jamie and Victoria, and the Season 12 crew of Sarah-Jane and Harry. Which one wins? Tune in tomorrow to find out …
(The eagle-eyed will have observed that some ‘crews’ didn’t make the cut. These include Steven and Katarina/Sara; The U.N.I.T family; Romana and Adric; Tegan and Nyssa; Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough; and counting K9 as a crew member. This is principally because the ‘crew’ existed for so short a time that it is hard to count them with the crews above)
For a long time this was only the second Patrick Troughton serial I had watched (after Tomb of the Cybermen) – and a prime contributor to my then perception that the era wasn’t particularly good. The story revolves around returning foes the Ice Warriors, who seize control of Earth’s primary transport means (named T-Mat, years before it was pointed out that ‘Transmat’ is a better name) and plot to use it to devastate earth with a deadly fungus – transported through the eponymous ‘seeds.’ Into this scenario steps the second Doctor with Jamie and Zoe – all three actors perhaps painfully aware that they were on their way out by the season’s end.
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.