Doctor Who Write-Ups, Uncategorized

The Second Doctor (1967-1969)

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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.

Choice Quote

The Doctor: Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.

First Words…

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!

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Doctor Who Write-Ups, Uncategorized

Doctor Who – War Games (1969)

warchiefThe TARDIS materializes in the middle of a muddy field covered in barbed wire. The Doctor quickly deduces that they landed right in the middle of a World War I battlefield. They run into a cheerful aristocratic woman serving as a battlefield medic, Lady Jennifer Buckingham, but before they could finish proper introductions they’re rounded up by German soldiers, only to then be “rescued” by the British. Unfortunately, when the Doctor tries to sneak back to the TARDIS which is near the German line, the British officers suspect he’s a spy. The TARDIS crew are sent to a French chateau being used as a British base and the tender mercies of General Smythe, who immediately orders them to be tried for espionage and, in Jamie’s case, desertion His fellow two judges, who met the Doctor and his companions, are inclined to let them off, but Smythe is able to effortlessly hypnotize them into agreeing with his judgment: executing Jamie and the Doctor and sending Zoe off to a prison to serve out a sentence of hard labor. That night, Zoe takes advantage of the fact that, as a woman, she’s entrusted to Buckingham’s care instead of sent to the cells with the men to sneak away while Buckinghman sleeps. She manages to get the cell keys from Smythe’s apartments, but also notices an odd device hidden behind a painting. Unfortunately, she’s too late to save the Doctor from being taken to be shot at dawn. Luckily, a soldier  shooting at the chateau inadvertently gives the Doctor and Zoe a chance to escape.

The soldier is caught and is shoved into the same cell as Jamie, who recognizes the man as a redcoat English soldier from his own time. Also Buckingham and a Lt. Carstairs start putting their notes together and noticing they have both huge gaps in their memory and vague recollections of being surrounded by sudden mist. Plus they begin to question the court martial and its verdict. The Doctor bluffs his way into the military prison and tries to save Jamie who had just made his own escape, but in the end they are recaptured and the redcoat is fatally shot. Luckily, by this point Carstairs and Buckingham know something is up and sneak the Doctor and the TARDIS crew out of camp in an ambulance. General Smythe tries to kill them all with a barrage, but the ambulance reaches a similar mist to what Buckingham and Carstairs encountered before. They seem to find themselves on a peaceful field, but suddenly they run smack into a Roman legion.

The Doctor and the others flee back into what the Doctor terms the 1917 “time zone”, where he correctly guesses they can find a map to all the different time zones in General Smythe’s safe. On the map, there’s a Roman zone, a World War I zone, an American Civil War zone, and a black gap in the center. Unfortunately, while on their way to investigate the center, they’re captured by Germans, landing them back in the literal crosshairs. They manage to escape, but not before the fact that they’re time travelers is reported back to the man responsible for the entire situation, the Master – I mean, the War Chief. Meanwhile the road to the center takes the Doctor and his crew into the American Civil War zone, where they run out of gas while escaping the Confederate Army and where Carstairs is captured. As they try to rest in an abandoned barn, however, they’re started to see a TARDIS-like ship, a SIDRAT, materialize with Union and Confederate troops disembarking. As the Doctor and Zoe go inside to investigate, the SIDRAT vanishes, leaving Jamie and Buckingham stranded.

Inside the ship, Zoe and the Doctor catch on quickly to the SIDRAT’s purpose: abducting hypnotized soldiers from across human history from before the end of World War I and transporting them to their proper time zones. The Doctor decides to wait until the ship returns to its home base. Jamie and Buckingham fare worse, ending up prisoners of the Confederacy. They’re rescued by a black soldier, Harper, who directs them to a safe spot but, unfortunately, he is captured for his trouble. The Confederate general tries to hypnotize him, but realizes that the soldier is immune since he is part of what he calls “the Resistance.” Back at the center of the time zones, Zoe and the Doctor are surprised to see that the mysterious base resembles a university. They join a lecture where the topic being discussed is how to perfect the brainwashing process – and the lecturer is ready to demonstrate on none other than Carstairs. The Doctor and Zoe can only watch as Carstairs goes back to believing that he is in a World War I military camp. Afterward, the Doctor gets up and plays the part of the obnoxious student to trick the lecturer into demonstrating  how to reverse the process. And before they can reach the Resistance, Confederate soldiers catch Buckingham and Jamie and bring them back to the barn where Harper is also being held. This time, though, they don’t have to wait long for rescue. The Resistance apparently followed their captors and dispatches them easily. Back at the base, before the Doctor and Zoe can leave the lecture hall, they run into the War Chief. The Doctor and the War Chief recognize each other, much to the Doctor’s own horror.

While Jamie uncovers a communications kiosk hidden inside the barn, Zoe is captured and hypnotized into answering questions about the Resistance and the Doctor. Meanwhile the Doctor, who is still on the run, manages to trick the lecturer into un-brainwashing Carstairs. Together they rescue Zoe, who remembers from the interrogation details about members of the various resistance groups across the zones. Back in the Civil War zone, the Confederate general, who like the other zones’ generals is working for the War Chief, manages to trigger an emergency alarm before being overpowered by the Resistance. The base’s guards are defeated, but not before they kill Harper. Jamie and three of the Resistance members hijack the SIDRAT the guard arrived in and are teleported back to the base. Trouble is stirring at the villains’ headquarters, though, as the base’s security chief sees the Doctor’s appearance as proof that the War Chief is planning to betray their race on behalf of his own people, the Time Lords. Realizing that one of his SIDRATs was taken over by the Resistance, the War Chief goes behind the security chief’s back to have the base’s guards ambush and capture kill Jamie and his comrades while the Doctor, Zoe, and Carstairs watch helplessly from a hiding spot and have to flee.

The security chief interrogates Jamie using the hypnotic machine and learns everything about the Doctor and the TARDIS, but tells the War Chief he learned nothing. However, the War Chief manages to get out of the security chief that he suspects him. The War Chief dares the security chief to take his suspicions to their superior, the War Lord. Elsewhere in the base, the Doctor, Zoe, and Carstairs save the members of the Resistance who accompanied Jamie and manage to take over the base’s controls, sending back Zoe and the Resistance members to recruit all the different Resistance cells across all the zones.  Unfortunately, when the Doctor, Jamie, and Carstairs try to hide out from guards in the SIDRAT, the War Chief manipulates the dimensional controls outside the SIDRAT to threaten to crush them unless they surrender. An exhausted Doctor crawls out of the SIDRAT with a white flag.

Of course, it’s all a ruse. The Doctor takes advantage of the War Chief’s posturing to throw down a World War I-era gas bomb, giving him enough time to mess with the exterior controls and completely hijack the SIDRAT, but their grand escape only leads them back to being captured by General Smythe in the 1917 zone. Zoe along with the  Resistance army quickly come to the rescue and kill General Smythe.  Back at the base, the leader of the whole operation, the War Lord, shows up for an inspection and ends up doing damage control. He sends the whole combined forces fighting in the World War I simulation to wipe out the Resistance, but the Doctor figures out how to use the hidden controls in General Smythe’s chambers to put a time barrier around the chateau. The Resistance and the Doctor hatch a scheme to use the tech taken from the base to deprogram soldiers. Their plotting is interrupted when a SIDRAT appears and the security chief abducts the Doctor.

The Doctor easily resists the security chief’s interrogation machine until the War Chief steps in. Alone, the War Chief tries to commiserate with the Doctor, since they are both Time Lords who fled Gallifrey. He also admits that they chose to experiment with humans since they are purportedly the most vicious species in the galaxy, which the Doctor denies, but the War Chief declares it’s all for the greater good of bringing peace and order and that he intends to depose the War Lord once the experiments are concluded. Before the Doctor can react, the War Chief saves the Doctor in his own way by convincing the War Lord that the Doctor agreed to help them as a fellow rogue Time Lord. Afraid that the War Lord might follow through with his musings that they simply nuke the entire planet and leave, the Doctor plays along. Back in the zones, Resistance cells from other zones, including the Mexican Revolution and the Crimean War zones, are brought together with Zoe and Jamie’s help and launch attacks in all the zones, emptying the base of most of the guards. At the War Lord’s orders, the Doctor contacts Jamie and Zoe, claiming he’s taken control of the SIDRATs and that he needs all the Resistance leaders to come to the base. As soon as they arrive, however, the Doctor sics the guards on everyone.

As Jamie, Zoe, and the resistance leaders are taken away to be brainwashed, the Doctor coaxes some information out of a trusting War Chief: while the SIDRATs are improvements on TARDISes in that they can be controlled remotely, a side effect of the technology is that the SIDRATs have a very short lifespan. So the War Chief desperately needs both the Doctor’s help and his TARDIS. On the other hand, the War Lord is suspicious of the Doctor’s heel turn, but the Doctor convinces him that he’s needed to improve their SIDRATs. Still, the War Lord tests his loyalty by ordering him to brainwash the prisoners, which gives the security chief an opportunity to get his rival the War Lord’s bestie killed by handing him over to an enraged Resistance. The War Chief intervenes and supervises as the Doctor begins “processing” the prisoners. While he’s gone, though, the security chief finds evidence of the War Chief’s plans to betray the War Lord and has him arrested. As he’s taken away, though, the Doctor has the War Chief drafted into the Resistance. The War Chief leads the Resistance to the base’s armory, giving them the means to take over the base. In the midst of the coup, the War Chief kills the security chief to “settle” his “personal debt”. The Doctor furiously demands that the War Chief send back everyone, but he confesses that only two of the SIDRATs are still functional. Both the Doctor and the War Chief realize that the only way to return the humans home is to call “them” in. The War Chief pleads, saying, “They’ll show no mercy”. While the Doctor mentally pieces together a box he says will serve as a distress call to the Time Lords, the War Chief tries to escape, only to run into the War Lord who promptly has him killed. The delay is just long enough that the Resistance, who were in pursuit of the War Chief, captures the War Lord. A nervous Doctor gets ready to send the signal, but tries to bid farewell to Zoe and Jamie, telling them the Time Lords will take them back to their rightful times along with the others. Zoe and Jamie refuse. The Doctor tries to take off in the TARDIS, but just as they’re within a few feet of the TARDIS, time suddenly slows down with the Doctor screaming, “We must get away.”

The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie manage to get inside the TARDIS and the Doctor prepares to take off. Zoe and Jamie are confused and disturbed about why the Doctor is so terrified of his own people and why he left his planet in the first place. He answers, “I was bored”, and that while the Time Lords only want to observe and record events, the Doctor yearned to see the universe firsthand. Unfortunately, his tendency to meddle went against the Time Lord ethos and made him a criminal in their eyes. The Doctor tries to escape by going to various planets, but a voice echoes in the TARDIS, demanding that the Doctor submit to his trial. Losing total control of the TARDIS, the Doctor finds that they landed on Gallifrey and sadly resigns himself to his fate. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are brought before a courtroom-style setting where three Time Lords are presiding over accusations against the War Lord. Outside the court, though, a SIDRAT appears and the War Lord’s guards save their boss, kidnap the Doctor and his companions, and try to hijack the TARDIS. However, the Time Lords simply and casually thwart the attempt and pass sentence: total dematerialization for the War Lord and his guards. Now it’s time for the Doctor’s own trial. While Zoe and Jamie are held behind a force field outside the courtroom, the Doctor is charged with violating the law of non-interference. The Doctor turns around the trial, claiming that he fought evil while the Time Lords themselves are guilty of “failing to use their great powers to help those in need.” The Time Lords admit that the Doctor’s defense raised issues that need consideration. One of the Time Lords reluctantly agrees to let Zoe and Jamie say goodbye to the Doctor before they’re returned. They soon notice that the force field blocking Doctor’s cell has been left down, allowing them a chance to escape – or so it seemed. Finally, the Doctor somberly says farewell, already knowing that the Time Lords will erase all their memories of their adventures except their initial encounters with the Doctor. After reassuring the Doctor that Jamie and Zoe are alright, the Time Lords concede that the Doctor had a point about combating evil in the universe. To kill two birds with one stone, the Time Lords decide to let the Doctor protect the Earth, a planet they’ve noticed he’s particularly fond of, as part of his punishment in exile. When he protests that he’s too well-known on Earth, the Time Lords agree to change his appearance, despite the Doctor’s frantic protests.

Choice Quotes

The Doctor (on the Time Lords): “I suspect they’ll make me listen to a long, boring speech about being a good boy. They – they like making speeches.”

Zoe: “Doctor, will we ever meet again?”
The Doctor: “Again? Zoe, you and I both know time is relative, isn’t it?”

Continuity Notes

Ooh, boy. In terms of importance, this is the most significant bunch of episodes in the history of the entire franchise, even more so than the first episode of the 2005 show. There’s a lot established here that would become the foundations of the character and his world. You could even go so far as to say that this is the second start to the series, as we learn more about not only the Doctor’s origins, but his character and motivations (and arguably more than the classic series or the 2005 series have revealed since). But War Games is also hugely important for what it meant for “Doctor Who” in terms of the production.

First, the obvious—this is the end of the Second Doctor era (although not the last Second Doctor story presented in the television series). But it was also the finale for the entire original black-and-white, serial incarnation of the show. From here on, the show would be in color and episodic. In other words, the show became “modern”. For me, the show becoming episodic means if I continue with this writing the summaries won’t be such a pain anymore!

The other really big thing is this is the first time the audience sees Gallifrey, although it’s never named in this serial, and the first time we learn the name of the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, although it’s still a matter of some contention among diehard fans whether or not Time Lords refers to the entire species or it’s a rank given to select Gallifreyans. Honestly, the franchise has paid less attention to the distinction than the fans do.

Here is where the Doctor first admits that he stole the TARDIS and that he left Gallifrey because he was “bored.” The Doctor also claims that he and all Time Lords live forever “barring accidents”. This bit is contradicted later on when we find that Time Lords can indeed die from old age, but to them “old age” is something like 12,000 years, so by human standards they do practically live forever.

Okay, now strap yourself in because we’re going to tackle the issue of what exactly happens to the Second Doctor. And you’ll probably need a graduate degree in Whoology to follow along.

For starters, the idea that the Doctor regenerates in this episode is entirely retroactive. Like how the Second Doctor was originally just supposed to be the First Doctor at a younger age, the Second Doctor is explicitly said to be just changing his appearance here. Weirdly, regeneration makes more sense, which the writers must have realized down the road, because as soon as we get to the Third Doctor it’s clear his personality radically changed too, but, unlike the First Doctor’s “regeneration”, it’s impossible to say that regeneration is what’s happening on screen. Of course, that didn’t stop fans from trying or from the BBC as labelling this as a regeneration story. At any rate, maybe the biggest problem later continuity creates, if you can get past the “regeneration is clearly not what’s happening” here hurdle, is that it makes the Time Lords’ actions toward the Doctor much darker than the story intended. At best they’re executing him in a way, at worst they’re chopping centuries off his overall lifespan. Then there’s the fact that Patrick Troughton ages in later stories and that the Doctor is working for the Time Lords in both the stories he appears in later in the television stories, among other things.

The Discontinuity Guide — the White Guardian bless it — got around that with the “Season 6b” theory. In it, the Doctor’s sentence of exile was delayed so he could serve under the auspices of the Time Lords’ secret investigative organization, the Celestial Intervention Agency, and that his regeneration wasn’t caused by the Time Lords, but unknown circumstances. It still doesn’t jibe at all with what we see on screen, but it’s a clever patch job that got quasi-official recognition when Terrance Dicks himself, the co-writer of War Games, referenced the theory in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Players.

Another, albeit very minor, bit of continuity weirdness is that the War Lord’s race is never actually named in this story. The canonical name of the War Lord’s species — which is, well, War Lords — seems to have come along in the episodes’ 1979 novelization.

Outside all that, this is the first and only appearance of the War Chief, the second Time Lord foe the Doctor faces in the show. If the sculpted beard and the Nehru jacket were familiar, well, it’s probably not a coincidence that the writer who would go on to create the Master, Terrance Dicks, co-wrote this. Plus, just like the Master, the War Chief has a past history with the Doctor. I’m not quite sure if there are real world reasons or Dicks thought it worked better in story to have a new character, but, really, you almost could count this as the sort-of-first appearance of the Master. In fact, various Who novelizations, including ones written by Dicks, played around with the idea that the War Chief and the Master are the same Time Lord under different titles, but it’s far from canonical, even in the spin-off media.

There’s a minor point here, too. This is the very first time the Doctor uses the adorably lazy alias, “John Smith”.

Comments

As you can tell from the length of the “Continuity Notes” section, it’s easy to overlook the actual story given how monumental War Games is in the franchise’s and the character’s history. After all, War Games was the last story before what was one of the biggest reworkings of a television show in history. Even though the show goes on for another two decades, War Games can still be seen as an epic finale to the first era of Doctor Who.

Luckily, though, the story holds up to this legacy. Sure, it has problems, many of them rooted in the show’s use of the serial format. The plot is stretched thinner than it should be, which is a problem especially because War Games is ten episodes long, with the Doctor and the companions running through the same perils and getting caught by the same villains multiple times. There’s also some ways the show didn’t age well in ways that are not surprising given the time it was made but which also ruins some potential. The character Harper, who is genuinely a black American Civil War Union soldier, is killed off at a point where he doesn’t serve as much more than a plot device. There’s no attempt to actually make a commentary or present a more complex character here even though all the pieces are right there. Also Lady Jennifer Buckingham is basically chivalrously shut out of the story by Jamie, even though she had the potential to be an interesting female heroine like Zoe. And the less said about the portrayal of a Mexican guerrilla leader, the better, although there is a rather cute moment where Zoe recruits the guerrilla leader into the Resistance but, because of his sexism, Zoe has to talk through Jamie.

It was also a bit too campy for me, even by the expectations I had as someone who’s watched all of ‘60s Doctor Who, that the villains were all named “security chief” and “War Chief” and “War Lord”. It doesn’t help that there really isn’t a reason for the War Lord to be in the story. Pretty much everything he does could have been done by the War Chief, who is a more interesting villain because of his personal history with the Doctor anyway.

But besides these problems, this is a worthy send-off to one of the most celebrated Doctor and companion teams, Zoe and Jamie. The mash-up of historical settings and a high-tech alien threat is carried off perfectly and is a nice encapsulation of what the show’s about and has the potential to be. The War Chief is also a pretty good if a tad underutilized villain, which explains why he gets “reincarnated” as the Master. There’s a certain subtle solidarity between him and the Doctor as unrooted renegade Time Lords even when they’re in conflict that makes him one of the less one-dimensional villains of the whole black-and-white period of the show.

But the real gem here is the tenth episode. The Doctor is victorious as always, but he is terrified at the mere prospect of running into representatives of his own species. It’s a tour de force performance by Patrick Troughton, whose fear is palpable and convincing and thus is as disconcerting for the viewer as it is for the audience. True, the Second Doctor has had plenty of moments where he’s fearful and even cowardly (at least seemingly so) before, but this is unprecedented. The Doctor, who has faced down armies with flinching, is completely unraveling and we don’t know exactly why.

Then the Time Lords show up. They do act benevolently, but at the exact same time they are frightening in a way that justifies the Doctor’s anxiety. For all his incredible intelligence and abilities, the Doctor is truly helpless before them. And even though they are kind and compassionate toward Zoe and Jamie, their efficient brutality toward the War Lord and the detached way they go about handling the Doctor are sobering. It’s a characterization that’s difficult to pull off, which is probably why it doesn’t last (that the 2005 series has basically reduced the Time Lords to a bunch of bungling bureaucrats whom the Doctor can defy with impunity, embracing a decline in characterization from the original series rather than fixing it, is an issue for me, but that’s a whole other conversation).

The heart of the story is actually not in the Doctor finally returning to Gallifrey, but in his farewell to Zoe and Jamie. There is a genuine sense of bittersweetness that wasn’t there even when the first companions—Susan, Ian, and Barbara—left the TARDIS. The Doctor knows they’re returning safely to their normal lives, but that not only will he never see them again (season 6b aside), but that they will forget practically all of their adventures together. Now ‘60s Doctor Who was capable of more darkness and tragedy than modern audiences would assume, but this is, I would argue, where the dramatic potential for this one-time kids’ educational show and its premise and universe really gets realized, if only briefly.

Join me again as a say a fond farewell to the Second Doctor and get ready to reverse the polarity!

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Doctor Who Write-Ups, Uncategorized

Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death (1969)

seedsofdeathIn the late 21st century, the dominant mode of transportation is the transmat, which allows the instantaneous teleportation of all people and objects to anywhere on Earth or Earth’s moon bases. However, the main relay station for the transmat station on the moon is attacked and taken over by Ice Warriors, unbeknownst to the transmat operations crew on Earth. The director of the relay station manages to sabotage the transmat equipment before one of the Ice Warriors kills him. Threatening the surviving technicians, the Ice Warriors try to force them to jury-rig a way to Earth.

Meanwhile the TARDIS lands at a space exploration museum. The Doctor plays a recording about transmat technology but is rudely interrupted by a man with a gun, Professor Eldred, the owner of the museum. Eldred is bitterly skeptical that anyone has any interest in his museum; since transmats became widespread, public interest and funding in space travel dried up. Eldred is getting his chance to shine, though, since the head of the transmat operations center, Commander Radnor, and his assistant, Gia Kelly, know Eldred has been secretly working on a rocket and need it to investigate what’s gone wrong on the moon. The matter becomes even more urgent when one of the technicians on the moon managed to get a vague warning back to Earth and ends up killed by an Ice Warrior for his trouble. Unfortunately, there are no trained astronauts available. Jamie suggests using the TARDIS, but Zoe points out it could overshoot by a “few million years.” So the Doctor volunteers to pilot the rocket himself.

One of the technicians, Fibbs, escapes and finds a safe place to hide, but the other surviving technician, Fewsham, complies with the Ice Warriors by rigging up a way to temporarily repair the transmat system. Kelly takes the opportunity to take the transmat up to the moon to finish repairs, believing Fewsham’s claims that the station director went on a rampage. In another part of the base, Fibbs manages to kill one of the Ice Warriors with concentrated solar power, although this also has the effect of messing up the one way for Eldred’s rocket to hone in on the relay station. Luckily Fibbs gets in touch with the Doctor through an emergency broadcast and helps him safely land the rocket. Unfortunately, soon after arrival Zoe finds that the rocket still got too damaged to travel back to Earth and the Doctor is captured by the Ice Warriors.

Since their already harsh and limited habitat on Mars is dying, the Ice Warriors plan to use the transmat to teleport pods around the Earth containing a Martian fungus that will absorb oxygen and “martiaform” the Earth, killing Earth life while making the planet habitable for Martian life. On Earth, the pods manage to start affecting the climate and causing the deaths of humans, even as the shut down of the transmat system starts causing social chaos. Back on the moon, Zoe succeeds, at the cost of Fibbs’ life, in sneaking through some maintenance corridors to the main control room, where she cranks up the heat, murdering all the Ice Warriors in the station.

The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, and Kelly return to Earth via transmat, but Fewsham tricks them into leaving without him. Experimenting on the fungus, the Doctor discovers it’s vulnerable to water. Jamie and Zoe go to a weather control station to have rain made to combat the fungus, but an Ice Warrior has already been there to kill the sole technician and sabotage the control panel. In a broadcast to Earth, Fewsham manages to trick the Ice Warriors into giving away the homage signal of an invasion fleet from Mars on route to Earth, sacrificing his life. Finding out that an Ice Warrior was spotted near the radio station, the Doctor rushes over there to help Jamie and Zoe. Designing a makeshift weapon with a solar energy device, the Doctor destroys the Ice Warrior and fixes the weather control station.

Armed with a fake homing signal designed by Kelly, the Doctor returns to the moon and confronts the remaining Ice Warriors. Although the Ice Warriors figure out his plans, the Doctor tricks them into thinking they’ve thwarted him at the last minute, when in reality the fleet has already fallen for the fake signal and gets drawn fatally close to the sun. Jamie appears via transmat and helps the Doctor dispatch the last remaining Ice Warriors. Back on Earth, as Eldred and Kelly get into a heated debate over reviving rocket technology, the Doctor and company slip away.

Our Future History

Good news! By at latest the last decades of the 21st century, solar power will be commonplace, weather control technology will be perfected (at least to the extent that rain can be generated), and the hassles of airplane travel will be a thing of the past because everyone will be using instantaneous teleporters. The bad news is that the technology of transmats seems to have created a society that’s so complacent space exploration is basically non-existent and that it can’t function without the transmats because apparently no other forms of transportation are readily available.

Continuity Notes

This series introduces Doctor Who‘s answer to Star Trek‘s transporters: transmats or “t-mats” as they’re mostly called here.

It’s strongly implied, but not spelt out, that Ice Warrior society, or at least their army, operates on a caste system with different ranks wearing different armor. Also by the 21st century the Ice Warrior species is dying out, reducing their numbers so much that despite having superior military technology they can’t just conquer Earth through brute force. This rather puts the Doctor sending an entire fleet of them hurtling into the sun in a darker light, especially if you’re use to the new series and its (occasionally) more pacifist interpretation of the Doctor…

Comments

The Second Doctor battles his true archenemy: foam!

I kid, sort of, but really this is a prime example of how old-school Doctor Who made the most out of so little. The actors playing the Ice Warriors visibly have a hard time getting around in their costumes, and there’s plenty of scenes of the Doctor and random security agents solemnly fighting their way through soapy foam, which originates from “pods” that are obviously balloons. And yet, unless those elements are insurmountable for you (in which case, you really shouldn’t be watching ’60s Doctor Who), there are genuinely thrilling moments to be had here, like Fibbs’ escape or whether or not Fawbsham’s heroic turn will lead to his doom. Doctor Who had long made it clear even by this point that anyone not on the TARDIS crew can die (and on rare occasions not even then!), but I don’t think any previous series exploited that to such good effect.

Plus this series seems to break the mold when it comes to characterization. Even the better Second Doctor serials tended to draw from the same pool of stock characters (i.e., the hardcase authority figure who cracks up when faced with an unprecedented crisis), but here we have a cowardly man who believably becomes willing to commit to a heroic sacrifice, a heroic man who at one point suffers a debilitating panic attack that almost derails Zoe’s plans, and a woman who is dedicated to her career but never slips into cliched “soulless professional woman” or “strong independent woman” territory. But I particularly liked Professor Eldred, a man genuinely in love with rocket technology but extremely and understandably embittered by how society has abandoned it for transmats. The idea of society becoming too dependent on a form of technology was probably not an original theme even in 1969, but a disillusioned scientist whose passion has been tossed away by society was a unique angle to approach it with. Even if it’s not entirely believable that society would ignore all other forms of transportation (after all, we still have transcontinental trains in spite of the option of air travel), there is something all too relateable to Eldred’s rage over dedicating himself to a field of knowledge that the wider culture has deemed unimportant on a whim.

Well, maybe it’s just relateable to me…

What else can I say? I enjoyed this one immensely, and recommend it to anyone who wants to test the waters of Doctor Who‘s black and white era.

 

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Krotons (1969)

krotonsEvery year a race who call themselves the Gonds select their two best students to become the “companions” of the Krotons, which is considered a great honor. Outside the Gonds’ city, the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrive, seeing a desolate world with twin suns. Despite his companions’ reluctance, the Doctor insists they set out to explore. They stumble across a Gond being disintegrated in a machine. Next they come across a group of Gonds, where one, Thara, is struggling to stop his lover Vana from being sent to the Krotons. The Doctor recognizes the door as resembling the one that led into the deadly machine. Unable to stop Vana from going to the door, they and Thara rush out into what the Gonds call “the wastleland” to try to find her. They save Vana from being destroyed, but she’s in a catatonic state. After taking Vana’s unconscious form to the home of Thara’s father, a Gond leader named Silras, he explained to the Doctor and the companions that the custom of submitting two of their smartest young people to the Krotons started a thousand years ago, when according to legend the Krotons came from the sky and were attacked by the Gonds. The war ended when the Krotons brought down a poison rain that devastated most of the planet. The Gonds consider the Krotons to be their benefactors, who have set up machines that see to all of their needs and education, but no one has seen a Kroton in centuries. However, after explanation time the Doctor and Silras realize too late that Thara and a group of rebellious students have started smashing the Krotons’ machines in the city’s main hall.  The Doctor arrives on the scene, only to be terrorized by, well, a probe (there’s no way to make that sentence sound less than filthy).

Zoe tests herself on one of the machines and in a trance tells the Doctor that she knows the Krotons are “very pleased” with her. The Doctor is dismayed when the Gonds want to have Zoe sent to them and takes the test for himself to make sure he can accompany Zoe. After being assured by Silras that his people will “always remember him,” the Doctor and Zoe go to meet the Krotons. Inside the Krotons’ lair, the Dynatrope, Zoe and the Doctor find themselves having their mental energy siphoned off. Thanks to not being subjected to a lifetime of brainwashing like the Gonds, however, the Doctor and Zoe are able to rush through the Dynatrope, taking some liquid to analyze later, and escape. Jamie breaks in after them, only to wind up the Krotons’ latest test subject. Under the Krotons’ mental conditioning, Jamie blurts out about the TARDIS.

Jamie learns that there are only two Krotons. They are an immortal crystaline species who have been trying to collect enough mental energy into the Dynatrope, which is their ship. In a run-in with one of the Krotons in the wasteland, the Doctor figures out that the Krotons cannot see in the light and rely on directions from their partner inside the Dynatrope. Meanwhile a power struggle among the Gonds ends with the ambitious Eelek coming to power. Eelek agrees to the Krotons’ demands that they hand over the “high brains”, meaning the Doctor and Zoe. Forced into the Dynatrope by Eelek and his supporters, the Krotons demand that the Doctor and Zoe use their mental energy to help fuel and pilot the Dynatrope back to the Kroton homeworld. Unfortunately for the Krotons, the Doctor was able to analyze a way to contaminate the Krotons’ energy supply  with sulfuric acid and Zoe manages to do so while the Krotons are explaining why they need some “high brains.”  Thara and Vana use sulfuric acid to destroy the entire Dynatrope, while the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe slip away.

Choice Quotes

“Yes, well, Zoe is something of a genius.  It can be very irritating at times.”
-The Doctor

Continuity

It’s when the Second Doctor says “Oh my giddy aunt”, which still gets erroneously remembered as his catchphrase.

This is the first time an episode was written by Robert Holmes, who would go on to easily become the most famous scriptwriter who ever worked on the show besides Douglas Adams. Ironically enough, Holmes’ relationship with “Doctor Who” started as something of an accident. “The Krotons” was actually a heavily reworked idea he had for his own serial that he pitched to the BBC and got rejected. Someone suggested he take the idea to the producers of “Doctor Who”, who rejected it againuntil the script was found years later when an assistant script editor was clearing the script backlog. And even then it didn’t get produced until it was needed for an emergency replacement for an episode that got axed!

Comments

It’s the debut of “Who” legend Robert Holmes as the scriptwriter and it’s…okay.

From what I’ve read, the script got some major overhauling from whatever Holmes originally envisioned into a “Doctor Who” episode, but you can still see the scars from that surgery. There’s a complicated political subplot with the Gonds that suggests something deeper, but it all feels really compressed (especially when a couple of characters key to the plot seem to pop up out of nowhere) and ends up just being why the Doctor and Zoe get stuck on the Dynatrope. It has the effect of making these episodes, a short series by the standards of this era of the show, feel like they’re treading air.

A real missed opportunity was the monsters du jour, the titular Krotons themselves, who really bring to mind the giant Servo from MST3K. I get this was an emergency replacement so we couldn’t expect too much, but, given how many details the episode gives about the Krotons being truly alien, they’re really a missed opportunity. Instead of the sheer weirdness of the Animus from “The Web Planet,” we just get what comes across as yet another second-rate replacement for the Daleks.

For all that, there is a certain weight to the story that makes it believe that this still came from one of the best writers to work on the show. The setting has a little more depth than what we usually see, even if the characters can’t agree if the Krotons had been around for a thousand years or thousands of years. Appropriately enough for Holmes who would become famous for hammering in a message into his episodes, there does seem to be an interesting theme in here, about a society that literally sacrifices its brightest for the self-interest of a couple of war-loving goons it wrongly sees as its benefactors. I bet it’s no accident that you can easily read all of that into the Doctor’s struggle against two bulky cousins of Tom Servo.

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Invasion (1968)

doctorwhotheinvasionThe TARDIS gets stuck over the dark side of the moon where its crew spy a UFO. Before they can investigate, the UFO fires a missile at the TARDIS, but it teleports away to a farm in the English countryside at the last second. Because of a circuit damaged by the explosion, the TARDIS becomes invisible. The Doctor decides to go to London and look up their friend Professor Travers for help repairing the TARDIS’s circuit, concerned only that they might be in a time when Travers is an infant. Jamie, Zoe, and the Doctor hitch a lift with a truck driver, who is trying to get away from an industrial compound run by International Electrometics, the world’s largest electronics company which holds almost a global monopoly. After clearing a guard post, the truck driver forces the Doctor and his companions off at a field, and they end up having to hitch another ride. Unknown to them, the driver is pursued and detained by two IE guards on motorcycles, and shot to death. At Professor Travers’s townhouse, they find out that Travers and his daughter Anne are in the United States. The house is being watched by a former teacher of Anne’s, Professor Watkins, an electronics expert who happens to work for IE, and his niece Isobel, a photographer. The Doctor tries to call Watkins at IE’s London headquarters, but he has apparently disappeared. The Doctor and Jamie decide to go to IE’s office in person, only to find to his frustration that there’s no human staff, only computers. Eventually Jamie and the Doctor are brought to Tobias Vaughn, IE’s Managing Director. Vaughn assures the Doctor and Jamie that Watkins is working on an experiment and has demanded total isolation while promising to have his top engineers repair the damaged circuit. However, the Doctor is suspicious, noticing that Vaughn did not blink normally for a human.

After the visit, the Doctor and Jamie are taken to a landed jet where they meet the former Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, now a Brigadier. He explains that he’s been put in charge of a new organization, UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force), which has been investigating mysterious disappearances at IE. Jamie recognizes the truck driver from before among the Brigadier’s photographs of UNIT agents who have been investigating IE. Vaughn gets into contact with some alien beings through a device, which warns him that the Doctor is “hostile” and, while they have never been on Earth before, they encountered him previously on “Planet 14.” Then Vaughn is instructed to watch out for anything that might interfere with the planned invasion. Just at that moment, Zoe and Isobel show up looking for the Doctor and Jamie, but are ultimately taken by Vaughn’s goons, who use them as bait for a trap to capture the Doctor and Jamie, who have volunteered to go back to investigate for UNIT.

All of them are taken to IE’s compound, where the Doctor and Jamie are introduced to Watkins, who is being extorted into compliance with the life of his niece. Vaughn hopes to learn more about the TARDIS by spying on the Doctor and Watkins’s conversation, but the Doctor sabotages the surveillance camera with a magnet. Vaughn threatens to kill Zoe if the Doctor doesn’t give him information about the TARDIS, but Jamie and the Doctor escape.  When his security chief and co-conspirator Packer admits he is worried that he is taking a huge risk by refusing to follow orders to kill the Doctor in order to get the TARDIS, Vaughn confides that he’s having Watkins work on a machine that can broadcast emotions, which he hopes to use to control his allies after the invasion. Finding Zoe and Isobel, the Doctor and the others finally get out of the compound with the help of a UNIT helicopter. However, the Doctor doesn’t take long to sneak back into the compound when the Brigadier tells him that UNIT has been getting reports of UFOs for the past year. At the compound, the Doctor finds his suspicions confirmed:  Vaughn is working with the Cybermen.

Vaughn urges the Cybermen to rush forward their plans for the invasion. But at the same time he tests Watkins’ device on one of the Cybermen, driving it mad. Back at UNIT headquarters, the Brigadier wants to warn his higher-ups at Geneva about the oncoming Cybermen invasion, but realizes he needs photographic evidence. Isobel offers to help, but the Brigadier refuses, infuriating her and Zoe. Meanwhile Vaughn is disgusted when the Cybermen announce that they will convert all able-bodied humans into Cybermen and dispose of the “unsuitable” and vows he will no longer cooperate with the invasion unless they go with the initial plan of allowing him to rule Earth in exchange for giving the Cybermen the raw materials they need. The Cybermen appear to acquiesce and Vaughn knows they’re lying, but is confident that his technology will protect him from the Cybermen’s mind control.

Isobel  and Zoe goad Jamie into joining them on an adventure to the IE compound to gather photographic evidence of the Cybermen. In the sewers beneath the compound, they run into the mad Cyberman, but they are saved by UNIT soldiers sent to retrieve them. At Vaughn’s office, Watkins presents Vaughn with an upgraded version of his device and arranges to have them immediately mass produced, but not before testing it on Watkins. Enraged, Watkins threatens Vaughn, who mocks him by giving him a loaded gun…only for Watkins to find out the hard way that Vaughn has been given a cybernetic body by the Cybermen. With the help of Watkins, who UNIT rescued from IE, the Doctor pieces together that the Cybermen will use chips secreted into all devices manufactured by IE to amplify a mind-control signal broadcast from their ship on the moon. Also the Doctor thinks he’s invented a circuit that can block the signal. Unfortunately, it’s too late. The signal brings human life to a standstill across the globe while Cybermen emerge from London’s sewers with more on the way from outer space.

Only the Doctor, his companions, and the Brigadier’s branch of UNIT are saved from the signal in time. The Brigadier works out a plan to convert a Russian spacefaring rocket into a missile that can be used to take out the Cybermen’s mothership, which is generating the signal, but it would take time. In the meantime, the Doctor decides, with a wire supplied by UNIT, to confront Vaughn. The Doctor tries to warn Vaughn that he can’t outsmart the Cybermen, but Vaughn is coolly confident, and guesses the Doctor is playing for time. Back with UNIT, Zoe manages to calculate the best way to use the missiles available to UNIT to create a chain reaction of explosions that take out most of the Cybermen invasion fleet. As the Doctor watches, the Cybermen blame Vaughn for this catastrophe and decide to use a bomb to wipe out all life on Earth in order to just strip mine it.

The Doctor enlists the help of a now half-deranged Vaughn to disrupt the homing signal the Cybermen are using to bring the bomb to Earth.  Using the weapon Watkins developed against the Cybermen that have swarmed IE headquarters, the Doctor with Vaughn and some UNIT soldiers destroy the source of the signal, but not before Vaughn is unceremoniously killed by a Cyberman. Later the Russian missile is able to take out the mothership, since the ship was forced to get into the Earth’s orbit thanks to the destruction of the homing signal. With the Earth saved and the circuit finally repaired, the Doctor sets off again.

Sign of the Times

Isobel calls the Brigadier “anti-feminist” for refusing to let her go help photograph a Cyberman. Of course, Isobel is still the one to serve tea to everyone.

Choice Quotes

“Don’t look so worried. Fancy a cup of tea?”
-The Brigadier to Zoe, at the height of the Cybermen crisis

Continuity Notes

It’s the first time the Brigadier is, well, Brigadier. It’s also the first appearance of his right-hand man, Corporal (later Sergeant) John Benton.

Trying to give the Cybermen a coherent continuity in the “classic” series may not be quite the hopeless task that doing so with Dalek continuity is, but…well, this series really makes a hash out of the Cybermen’s first appearance, The Tenth Planet.  In that story, the Cybermen’s homeworld Mondas comes into contact with Earth again for the first time in millennia. Even if it’s the case that some Cybermen attacked Earth before Mondas returned to the solar system, which some of Tobias Vaughn’s dialogue seems to suggest, then why aren’t the Cybermen recognized? Or at least why do the Cybermen of that story look less advanced than their “Princess Leia hairbun” counterparts here? Of course, the answer is “They didn’t really care that much about continuity on TV shows in the Pre-Internet days!”

Still, this serial alone has given fuel to many a nerdy debate about continuity. One reason boils down to the Cybermen’s claim that they encountered the Doctor before on a mysterious “Planet 14,” which leads any fan into a collision course into the questions raised above. Probably the best “answer” came from famous comic book writer Grant Morrison, who out of the whole mystery spun a Sixth Doctor yarn in the comic book Doctor Who Adventures where Mondas is Marinus in the far future.

But the big one is that this adds to the big snaffu that is UNIT’s continuity. Basically dialogue from “The Web of Fear” suggested that story took place sometime around 1975 and it’s confirmed “The Invasion” unfolds four years after that. It’s pretty clear that UNIT stories take place at least a couple of years in the viewing audience’s future, but how far is unclear, to say the least (it’s infamous enough that it was made into a joke in the “new” series). I’m sure I’ll note it some more when it comes up, but for now let’s just say that the Cyberman invasion of the Earth took place sometime in the early-mid ’70s.

Comments

You can say the same for a lot of Second Doctor series, and I know I’ve said something very similar before, but this one really feels like a ’50s b-movie. A bunch of scientists (including the Doctor) and military leaders are in a room full of tech equipment and discuss a slowly unfolding invasion or crisis or whathaveyou?  Classic! Also, in spite of the obvious budget limitations, this story does feel like an epic in the same vein as The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  Like that one, it’s a cinematic serial, and the plot just feels like there’s more at stake than in most of the Doctor’s other adventures. This is another episode I’d peg as a big influence on Russell T. Davies and his oft-tapped alien invasion sagas during his era of the “new” show.

But it’s really the characters that make this serial work. The exception unfortunately is Isobel, who dates this story badly. As noted above, she calls the Brigadier out, but her plan, carried out to prove she is a Strong Independent Woman, does cause the deaths of a police officer and a couple of UNIT soldiers for the sake of photographs that don’t really help the Brigadier avert the invasion at all. The rest of the time she’s obsessing over fashion photography, flirting with John Benton, or serving tea. Ironically, it’s Zoe, who never feels compelled to assert her Strong Independent Woman-ness, that becomes the better feminist model, by being the one who actually does help UNIT defeat the Cybermen – with math, no less.

The characters who do make this work naturally include the Brigadier. In a show where authority figures are usually one monster invasion away from turning psychotic, the Brigadier is a welcome and complete inversion. He has a stern edge and dominates the room, but is also kind to a fault and willing to listen to good advice no matter the source. Then there’s the real villain, Tobias Vaughn, who is one of the best, if not the best, human villain the show has produced so far. He’s an oddly believable type of lunatic, who is the model of decorum and respect – until his desires are frustrated, in which case the raging psychopath underneath finally reveals himself. It’s really a shame he didn’t become a recurring antagonist, or at least was killed off so casually.

Finally, it’s worth nothing that fans have yet to speculate on the connections between the Doctor and the mysterious Kilroy…

doctorwhokilroy

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Doctor Who – The Dominators (1968)

thedominators

An intergalactic empire, the Dominators, has sent two scouts, Rago and Toba, to investigate the planet Dulkis. Their ship stops on what is locally known as the “Island of Death”, aptly named because the entire place is bathed in radiation, and absorbs the radiation for power. In a case of very bad timing, Cully, the rebellious son of the planet’s most powerful leader, Senex, shows up with his friends for seeking adventure. Going to a radiation-infested island doesn’t seem like it would be much fun, but who knows, maybe risking cancer is to Dulkians what sky diving is to humans. Anyway, the impulsive and bloodthirsty Toba has the young explorers blasted by their robots, the inappropriately adorable-sounding Quarks – except Cully, who manages to hide. Elsewhere on the island, the TARDIS lands and the Doctor happily explains they’ve landed on Dulkis, a planet whose inhabitants are pacifists, so they can take the opportunity to enjoy the beach. The Doctor realizes something is off when they discover the ruins of a house that he deduces was used for testing weapons. They’re “rescued” from the radiation by Balan and his two students. Balan explains that the island was the site of a nuclear bomb test nearly two centuries ago, before the Dulkians managed to achieve world peace. Thereafter the Island of Death was used as a site for students to learn about radiation and the cost of war. But Balan is shocked to find evidence that all traces of radiation are gone. Cully rushes into the house and tries to warn Balan, but he is skeptical. The Doctor and Jamie volunteer to investigate, and true to many of the Doctor’s investigations they wind up promptly captured.

Thinking that the Doctor and Jamie are beings native to the planet, Rago wants to test their suitability for slave labor, while Tabo just wants to kill them all. Rago wins out and tests the Doctor and Jamie’s intelligence, but they play dumb until an exasperated Rago simply releases them. Cully and Zoe go to the mainland to warn Cully’s father, but Senex is also skeptical, even with Zoe’s testimony that she and her companions are aliens, forcing Cully and Zoe to return to the island again to discover . Balan and his students find the Dominators’ craft and are captured and enslaved once Ragon becomes convinced they are “clever ones.”  The slaves are set to work clearing rubble near the testing site in order to help clear the way for the Dominators to drill into the planet to harvest more energy.

Zoe and Cully manage to escape and fight back against their Quark guards. Tabo imposes his “kill him all” philosophy by destroying the test site in order to kill Cully and Zoe. This causes a power struggle between Tabo and Rago, which Tabo violently wins. Learning more about the planet, Rago goes to the mainland and terrorizes the planet’s ruling council, informing them that, because the Dominators are fighting a difficult war, the Dulkians will be used for slave labor so that the Quarks can be freed up to fight. Back on the island, Jamie manages to destroy one of the Quarks with a boulder, but they are all recaptured. Tabo kills Balan in order to try to frighten the others into giving up the name of the one who destroyed the Quark, but to no avail.

The Doctor realizes that the Dominators need to launch an atomic seed device into the core of the planet, which would trigger a chain reaction that would cover the planet with radioactive magma that could be used by the Dominators for fuel. Even though Cully and the others fail to distract the Dominators, the Doctor is still able to snatch up the atomic seed when the Dominators try to plant it. Although the volcano beneath the Island of Death is activated, the Doctor manages to put the seed device on the Dominators’ ship, destroying it when it leaves the planet. The Doctor revels in his victory outside the TARDIS, until Jamie reminds him that lava from the volcano is headed straight to the TARDIS.

Continuity Notes

The Doctor had visited Dulkis before, apparently on one of his rare uneventful jaunts.

Comments

Usually Second Doctor-era adventures have some kind of moral behind them. Here, though, it’s more than a little muddled. The Dulkians are slow to take action against the Dominators because…they’re pacifists?  Cully is like the boy who cried wolf…even though he’s just adventurous in a docile society, and not ever shown to be deceptive?  I get that they were trying to depict how a society that had managed to successfully adopt a pacifist ideology might react to its first hostile alien encounter, but, really, pacifism does not mean that people would blindly approach a strange spacecraft, especially after they had heard claims that there were robots out there who had killed three people.

The Dominators themselves seem to have been another attempt to replace the Daleks, especially because the Daleks could easily be copied and pasted into this story.  But they’re pretty generic alien conquerors, even with the disagreements over tactics between them, and it doesn’t help that their pet robots sound a lot and look a little (head spikes aside) like adorable cartoon characters for preschoolers.

Oh well…at least it’s not just another “base under siege by monsters” story.

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Doctor Who – Fury from the Deep (1968)

furyfromthedeepThe TARDIS lands in the ocean near an English shore, causing Victoria and Jamie to remark (in rather annoyed tones) that they always seem to show up in England. They find a steel pipe funneling gas mined from the ocean and a lid which the Doctor opens using his sonic screwdriver (first time!). The Doctor becomes interested in a strange heartbeat-like sound, but his investigations are interrupted when the Doctor and the companions are shot by a tranquilizer gun. Right as they wake up they find themselves inside a control center whose manager, Robson, accuses them of being saboteurs hired to tamper with an emergency release valve. Less hostile is a chief technician, Harris, who explains that they lost contact with one of their rigs and the pressure in the pipelines has been dropping. Harris gets interested when the Doctor explains he heard a strange noise indicating movement in the pipes, but Harris swears it’s impossible for marine life to get inside them. Nonetheless, Robson has the Doctor and the others detained in a cell. Victoria is able to jimmy open the lock with a hairpin and stumbles across a masked man releasing gas from the pipes. The man locks her in, where she’s seemingly attacked by foam coming in through an air vent just before the Doctor and Jamie release her. Meanwhile Harris’s wife, Maggie, is stung by seaweed while retrieving a file for her husband and becomes ill.

Robson arrogantly resists the efforts by Harris and others to slow down production, despite the mounting evidence that something is causing the pipes to be blocked. In the living quarters of the complex, two strangely acting workers, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, enter Maggie and Harris’s apartment claiming that they’ve come for an inspection. The men emit a gas (from their mouths, you juvenile) that causes Maggie to lose consciousness. The Doctor, who Harris brought to check on his wife, deduces that Harris was the intended victim of both the stinging seaweed. As Robson continues to lose his sanity under the crisis, the Doctor and the companions in the TARDIS run tests on the seaweed, finding that it’s capable of movement and feeds on the natural gases on the floor of the North Sea, converting them into a toxic gas. In the TARDIS library, the Doctor finds references to such creatures in the North Sea from the eighteenth century. Later the Doctor deduces that the seaweed is parasitic and can control its host. The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie return to the Harris’s apartments to report their findings, only to be attacked by foam that fills the apartments, but they narrowly escape, which still unnerves Victoria. Less lucky is Robson, who gets some gas courtesy of Oak and Quill. When Robson disappears, Harris is forced to take charge.

The Doctor and Jamie try to investigate a shaft and rescue a worker who fell into it, but are forced to flee when they encounter the creatures and more foam. The emergency reaches such a crescendo, with more rigs falling out of contact, that Megan Jones, the director of the gas company, comes to the control center. Megan is skeptical, but Harris still tries to convince her to get the government to bomb the rigs. Robson interrupts them, shouting “We won’t allow it!”, the oddne of which erodes Megan’s doubt. After Robson rushes away, the Doctor appears and theorizes that Robson is being controlled. Jamie finds an unconscious Victoria, who identifies her attackers as Quill and Oak. A convinced Megan listens as the Doctor theorizes that the seaweed is trying to form a massive colony out of the rigs and that its ultimate goal is to invade the surface of the British Isles. The Doctor advises against involving the military and having the rigs bombed, since the rig workers might be needlessly killed and the seaweed might survive and only be spread. Instead the Doctor, seizing on the fact that Victoria saw a seaweed-controlled person, notes that the seaweed acted to avoid pure oxygen. Meanwhile Jamie pursues Oak and Quill, who have been trying to release the control center’s supply of oxygen, and fights them, with Quill getting knocked out. However, the Doctor thinks it was the sound of Victoria’s scream, not the Doctor’s punch, that took out Quill. Using an amped-up recording of Victoria screaming and the pipes themselves as a transmitter, the Doctor drives the seaweed back and a mission to strike at the seaweed’s “nerve center” is a success, despite the Doctor’s awful attempt at flying a helicopter. Robson, Maggie, and all the others controlled by the creatures are freed and unharmed. Still, exhausted by the constant fear and danger she has been subjected to, Victoria elects to stay behind with the Harrises, noting that she lost her home and family in her own time. After she and Jamie say goodbye, the TARDIS leaves while Victoria watches from the beach.

Choice Quotes

“You always seem to land on this planet!”
“And it’s always England.”

-Victoria and Jamie.  (Characters pointing out odd things in the plot is not unique to our postmodern, ironic age.  It does seem like later on and in the “new” series writers get around this by implying that there are lots of TARDIS trips that we don’t see.)

“Doctor, why is it that we always end up in trouble?”
“Why, Victoria, it’s the spice of life, my dear.”

Continuity Notes

Victoria leaves the TARDIS crew.

This is the last of the “lost episodes,” but it’s also one of the hardest hit by the BBC slashing and burning its own archives. Pretty much the only way to experience the episode is through finding a fan reconstruction online or through the BBC’s official audio play.

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Okay, so “mind-controlling seaweed that spews foam” does sound intolerably goofy, but here…it works. I don’t know if it’s the black-and-white or just how the show handled it, yet it’s true. Even though this story taps into many tropes that have already become well-worn in this era of the show (highstrung authority figure who is paranoid and has a breakdown, the Doctor and the companions being suspected as the enemy at first, monsters attacking an isolated complex, any one of the survivors might be a traitor/under mind control), this serial actually has an effective, creepy atmosphere – just see any scene with the ominous Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill – with a threat that’s truly completely alien, no matter how you describe it. The Second Doctor really did have a penchant for Lovecraftian villains (even if it was largely because Lovecraftian villains, depending on what interpretation you run with, tend to be budget-friendly).

If a particularly nerdy genie offered me a wish but limited that wish to which of the lost serials I’d like to see completely restored, it would be this one – well, next to Evil of the Daleks. It’s episodes like this that help explain why the show in its humble beginnings had the reputation of giving British kids nightmares.

As for Victoria, she generally isn’t well-remembered, at least compared to Jamie and Zoe, who we’ll meet next time. She was sort of a backwards-looking heroine, in the sense that she screamed and was captured and menaced a lot, although I am convinced it was deliberate on the writers’ part – after all, she was a woman from the 19th century named “Victoria.”  It is interesting to note that she does get more of a sendoff than any past companions except arguably Susan – by which I mean, she gets a sendoff at all.

victorialeaves

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