In the timey-wimey ball that is “Doctor Who” continuity, it gets forgotten that originally Patrick Troughton was supposed to just be a younger version of William Hartnell, and not just the same being with a similar yet notably different personality (although, weirdly enough, the way Patrick Troughton’s introduction is handled on screen much better reflects the idea of Time Lord regeneration than just rejuvenation). Plus, throughout his tenure, Troughton still played it like the latter. While Hartnell’s once irascible Doctor softened up over the seasons, Troughton’s interpretation is still a striking contrast. He shares the First Doctor’s commitment to justice and contempt for tyranny (and, really, authority in general), intellectual cockiness, and the benevolence of an eccentric uncle. Yet he is also gentler, more impish, more bumbling, and apparently more timorous, but with well-played hidden depths that kept viewers wondering how much certain aspects of his persona were played up to trick his enemies into misjudging a brilliant and even occasionally ruthless mind. Not to disparage William Hartnell and the First Doctor by any means, but I do think a case can be made that Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor simultaneously showed how funny and how complex and mysterious the character could be.
Unfortunately, the Second Doctor era is more than a bit more monotone than the madcap, genre-busting First Doctor era. Early on, the show abandoned the pure historicals, a loss that would stay with the TV show even into its contemporary run (although, as people as nerdy about “Who” as I am have made me aware, they have been revived to a small extent by Big Finish). In fact, the Second Doctor era would drift away from historical settings altogether in favor of adventures on present-day Earth or a vague distant future. More specifically, the Second Doctor just couldn’t stop spending his time in bases under siege by monsters.
Personally, as I slowly went through the Second Doctor serials, I did miss the headier mix of genres and backdrops from the First Doctor era, a difference given more of an impact by the fact that the Second Doctor era kept the serial format of the series all the way through. It’s still a classic era, though, despite whatever flaws you might find with the format and less diversity in the types of stories told, with what the vast majority of fans recognize as one of the greatest companion teams – Zoe and Jamie. The relationship between the Doctor and Jamie, no doubt tapping into Patrick Troughton’s real-life friendship with Jamie’s portrayer Frazer Hines, really is a wonderful foundation stone for this period of the franchise. Even so, Zoe fits in the dynamic perfectly, forming what I think a lot of people would agree is the most distinctive TARDIS crew since Barbara, Ian, and Susan were on board.
Must Sees/Best Introductions to the Era
The Mind Robber – This was a welcome return to the downright randomness of the First Doctor era. As a result, it rather does stick out from the entire tenure of the Second Doctor, but, like the BBC itself. I would include this show in any list of the top episodes of the entire classic series. It is tremendously odd and goofy, even by “Who” standards, but the strangeness does enhance the creativity on display and give a lot of material for the Second Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie to play off of.
The Seeds of Death – It’s easy to write this off as the “the Doctor versus foam” serial, but, dare I say it, this probably is one of the most suspenseful and intimidating threats the Doctor faces in the whole black-and-white era. I’ve made no secret of my impression that probably the biggest hurdle to newcomers and fans of the modern series when it comes to getting into the ’60s episodes is the serial format. Despite that, this comes closest to transcending the problems of stretched-out and repetitious plots, with a more rigorous pace and more meaningful side plots. It’s just both a good sci-fi/action adventure and a nice Second Doctor tale.
The Moonbase – The first of the “under siege by monsters” episodes, this one’s also easily my favorite. I think this might be a controversial choice, since as far as Second Doctor confrontations with the Cybermen go, people tend to prefer Tomb of the Cybermen. However, I prefer this one as it really does capture the feel what would become a favorite “Doctor Who” trope – people trapped and desperate in an enclosed area with the Doctor doing his best to save them from a mysterious threat – in a way that feels true to the black-and-white period of the show while also predicting some of the best elements of the franchise today.
The Macra Terror – If you can get past the fact that most of the footage to this one is lost, it’s worth giving a try and is far from an unworthy introduction to the Second Doctor. After all, it still has some totally unsubtle yet poignant and timeless social commentary mixed with some classic character moments from the Doctor, so what more could you need? (Well, besides the actual footage for this serial, but anyway…).
The Evil of the Daleks – I was a little reluctant to list this one since it does show off the most egregious sins of the serial format. The story is terribly bloated with subplots and even characters who just go absolutely nowhere. But it’s also the very rare story from this era that casts some moral ambiguity on the Doctor’s actions, its portrayal of the Daleks is genuinely sobering, and, like “Doctor Who” at its best, it deftly merges sci-fi and Victorian tropes. It may not have been the “last Dalek story” like originally intended, but it definitely is one of the best.
The War Games (the last episode) – Okay, I’m cheating a little bit, but there is such a difference between the last episode of The War Games and the other parts of the serial. The final episode is just epic, pushing the fundamentals of the entire show in a way that hadn’t been done since the very beginning and showing the Doctor genuinely terrified and unsure for the first time ever. The War Games as a whole definitely has more than its fair share of moments and the mixture of time periods was a welcome change to all the futuristic and alien settings the Second Doctor has gone through, but it also makes its own argument for all the reasons why ditching the serial format with the coming of the Third Doctor. So, honestly, I can’t fault anyone for skipping the four and a half hours that are ultimately at best just prelude to one of the best and most memorable regeneration moments of the character’s history.
The Doctor: Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.
Slower. Slower. Concentrate on one thing. One thing! It’s over. It’s over.
…and Last Words
What are you doing? No! Stop! You’re making me giddy! No, you can’t do this to me! No! No! No! No! No! No!