After Salamander falls into the time vortex, the TARDIS is spinning out of control, but Jamie manages to reach the control panel and stabilize its movement. Elsewhen in 1970s (probably?) London an elderly Professor Travers, accompanied by his daughter Anne, a scientist living in the United States, confronts a collector named Julius. Travers regrets bringing back the robot Yeti he found from Tibet and selling them to Julius, and angrily demands that Julius let him buy back the Yeti. Anne tries to reassure him, but Travers admits that while experimenting with one of the spheres that control the robots he reactivated it and now it went missing. Just as Julius throws Travers and Anne out of his house, the sphere appears and reactivates the Yeti, which promptly kills Julius. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor sees that the TARDIS is suspended in outer space, literally caught in some kind of fungus. He manages to rig the TARDIS controls to escape, causing it to land in an unused tunnel in the London underground near a station for Charing Cross. While searching the tunnel for clues as to what trapped the TARDIS, Victoria and Jamie are captured by soldiers preparing to destroy the tunnel and brought to an underground bomb shelter where the Professor and Anne Travers and military officers are working together to stop the Yeti, which have taken over the subway tunnels. Meanwhile the Doctor comes across two Yeti who are guarding a pyramid like the ones from Tibet.
Victoria and Jamie are reunited with Professor Travers, and Jamie volunteers to accompany some soldiers into the tunnels. When it turns out that the explosives were sabotaged, the one journalist allowed by the British government to cover the story, Harold Chorley, accuses the Doctor and his companions of being the ones behind it. Anne is convinced, finding it odd that the Doctor was present both times Prof. Travers came across the Yeti. After overhearing the Travers’ conversation, Victoria decides to return to the tunnels to look for the Doctor herself. In the tunnels, several soldiers find out the hard way that the Yeti are bulletproof and armed with deadly guns, which disable the explosives by generating the same fungus-like substance that trapped the TARDIS and is spread throughout the tunnels. In the shelter, the Travers observe that the fungus is rapidly expanding on its own across the tunnels. Jamie, who has set off on his own with a soldier named Evans, is trapped by the fungus.
Evans destroys the pyramid but it doesn’t stop the fungus. Victoria finds the Doctor with Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who had been sent to take over the mission. The Brigi…I mean, the Colonel signs off on a plan to use explosives to seal the shelter away from the fungus, but it’s too late. The Doctor realizes that someone is working with the Great Intelligence, which is why he’s less than happy to learn that Victoria blurted out everything about the TARDIS to the erratically behaving Harold Chorley. Reunited with the Doctor, Jamie and the rest, while looking for Harold, instead find a distressed Anne, who has discovered that her father was taken by one of the Yeti. Learning about the TARDIS, the Colonel is not all that skeptical, but decides it is their last hope to escape the fungus and sends a squad to find it. Unfortunately, all of them except Evans and seemingly one other soldier are killed trying to cross through the fungus. The rest of the soldiers fare no better: they go up to London to protect the Doctor as he retrieves electronic parts needed for a device Anne has created, but most of the soldiers are slaughtered by the Yeti, leaving the Colonel alone to escape back to the shelter for his life.
There’s no safe refuge for our heroes anymore, however, as the shelter is invaded by the Yeti who are being led by Prof. Travers, who has been possessed by the Great Intelligence. Cornering the Doctor and the others, the Great Intelligence declares that the whole scenario was a giant trap for the Doctor. In exchange for the Doctor’s companions’ lives, it wants to use a device to absorb all the Doctor’s knowledge. The Great Intelligence takes Victoria and drags her into the tunnels, with Jamie, the Colonel, and Evans following. The Doctor and Anne finish Anne’s invention, a remote control that can override the commands sent to one of the Yeti’s control spheres, but it only works in short range. Victoria and Prof. Travers, now free from the Great Intelligence’s possession, are led to a control room where there’s a larger pyramid where eventually they are joined by all the other survivors, all seized by the Yetis. The Doctor surrenders and everyone discovers that the Great Intelligence had taken over the corpses of one of the officers killed by the fungus, pretending that the man had barely survived. At seemingly the last minute, and despite the Doctor’s protests, Jamie uses Anne’s remote control to cause the “rogue” Yeti to break the pyramid and destroy the Great Intelligence’s corporeal body. An aggravated Doctor explains that he had crossed the wires in the pyramid, which would have let the Doctor absorb the Great Intelligence, meaning that the Great Intelligence has only been broken off from contact with Earth rather than destroyed.
Sign of the Times
Anne has this exchange with one officer:
“What’s a girl like you doing in a job like this?
Well, when I was a little girl I thought I’d be a scientist…so I became a scientist.
Just like that?
Just like that.”
This is the serial that introduces Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, better known as “the Brigadier” (although he’s not quite the Brigadier yet!), who despite not being an “official” companion is as much a beloved staple of the classic series as Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, the actual episode where he first appears is missing, even after most of the serial’s episodes were discovered in 2013. It’s still not the debut of UNIT, although honestly it might as well be.
Also, at the risk of invoking the series’ most notorious continuity snafu way too soon, I couldn’t help notice that if you look at the time frame this serial’s prequel, “The Abominable Snowmen”, was supposed to take place in and Prof. Travers’s claim that he hadn’t seen the Doctor in “over 40 years”, this serial can be said to take place in the early ’70s. Keep that in mind when we get to the confusion over when exactly the “UNIT years” take place…
Anne Travers actually raises a good point, even though the episode does begin with the Doctor being forced to appear in this particular time and place: why does the Doctor show up when there’s trouble? This does get answered much later in “The Doctor’s Wife,” where it’s pretty much spelled out that the TARDIS consciously at least some of the time takes the Doctor to where he’s needed.
A threat represented by foam and lit-up plastic sheets, a solemn fight sequence between British soldiers and shambling robot Yeti, people running around corridors…now this is “classic Who.”
It’s hard to judge this serial in retrospect, since it lays out so much of what would define the show in the Third Doctor era, and not just by bringing in the (soon to be) Brigadier. Even with the recovered episodes – or perhaps partially because of them – I do wonder if the presence of the Brigadier does give the serial more of a reputation than it otherwise would have. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, and watching Nicholas Courtney as the stoic yet not stereotypically cold military man Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart alone explains why he became a mainstay for a show that runs through countless other characters as a matter of course. But it’s telling that in a story where robotic Yeti and a foamy fungus invade the London tubes the goofiest thing is the overacting of the actor playing Evans (and I think there’s more than a little bit of anti-Welsh stereotyping there too). It doesn’t help that it feels like he’s practically in every scene.
But for all that this is generally the sort of thing people think about when they wax nostalgic about old-school “Doctor Who.” At the very least it can give you an education on how frightening foam can be.