Tag Archives: first doctor

Commentary, conscience and The Savages (1966)

savages4

Ah, Season 3. The season of politically incorrect inversion. It started with Galaxy 4, which imagined a world where beauty was bad and ugly was good, and in doing so created a race of evil women up to no good. Then there’s The Ark, where the repressed underclass outfox their human overlords but prove to be a bunch of nogoodniks when they do. Then there’s The Savages (working title: The White Savages) which suggests that blacked up people as masters and white people as oppressed primitives is such a reversal of the natural order of things that it’s a sufficiently novel idea to hang a Doctor Who story on.

The origins of The Savages are so obscure that we can only guess at the true intent of the production team. Although The Fact of Fiction in DWM505 does a good job of demonstrating that it’s a critique of apartheid era South Africa. How far we can stretch this rubber band is hard to say. But it’s interesting that the story’s Elders don’t just imprison and repress the savages, they vampirically suck the very life essence out of them.

If writer Ian Stuart Black is saying something about apartheid, he isn’t just saying, “ooh, isn’t it awful?” He’s saying there’s a deliberate pillaging of all that’s good from one race and to enrich the fortunes of another. It could be a metaphor for cultural appropriation.

But I think The Savages is too slight a piece of work to attribute too much lofty ambition to. Instead it’s fairly standard sci-fi material, presenting the familiar trope of a society full of beautiful civilized people which seems idyllic but is harbouring a terrible secret. Any claims it has to social commentary are shouted down by the sheer cliche of it all.

****

It’s interesting how far William Hartnell’s cantankerous old Doctor has come by the time of The Savages, one of his final clutch of stories. Once he was a figure of mystery. Now, his fame precedes him. The Elders know of him “light years” before he touches down on their nameless planet. They have tracked his journeys through time and space, a feat only the Daleks had previously managed.

It’s a tangential point, skipped over within the story, but the Doctor has been noticed. Since the show began, he’s been a cosmic nobody, landing in places by chance, nameless, homeless and unheard of. Yes, the Monk knew him, but they were of the same race. The Elders know of him by his travels and travails. The Doctor even acknowledges it himself, when he asks to know the secret  behind the Elders’ scientific advances, before he endorses their society. “After all,” he says “there’s my reputation to think about.” Last episode, he didn’t even have a reputation.

All this started back at The Dalek Invasion of Earth, when, as we noted, the Doctor stopped being a wandering traveller getting himself into random scrapes, and became a hero. Since then, his adventures have been a mixed bag. In the futuristic stories, he tends to be a righter of wrongs and a fixer of things. But in the historicals, he’s still being swept along by the tides of time, striving only for his and his companions’ escape.

From The Savages on, however, he’s all hero, righting wrongs wherever he goes. Even the remaining historicals are variations on the norm. In The Smugglers, he makes a conscious decision to eschew escape in the TARDIS and prevent the murder of the local villagers. And in The Highlanders, he sets about rescuing the enslaved men aboard Trask’s ship. Under the guidance of new producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davies, Doctor Who becomes a show about a good man going to war with the bad guys, every week.

He even has a battle cry:

DOCTOR: Indeed I am going to oppose you, just in the same way that I oppose the Daleks or any other menace to common humanity!

So that’s his mission statement now: to oppose menaces to common humanity. He’s conveniently failing to mention that time he once threatened to brain a savage himself, when fleeing from the Tribe of Gum. The sly old fox.

****

Incidentally, the Elders are surprised when the Doctor condemns their exploitation of the Savages as protracted murder, but I don’t know how they thought this was going to go down.

EDAL: Jano, you’re sure the Traveller from Beyond Time won’t have a problem with us extracting the life force from the Savages and leaving them for dead?

JANO: Of course not, Edal! We have followed his travels across the universe! (I particularly liked the one about the Sea Beggar. That was educational as well as entertaining.) He’s never resisted anything like this before! No, I can’t see why he’d object to our oppression and slaughter of our fellow men and one scantily clad girl.

(Pause)

EDAL: Maybe best not mention it, though. Just in case.

JANO: Perhaps it won’t come up?

****

The additional element of novelty in The Savages is when Jano (Frederick Jaeger) absorbs the life energy of the Doctor, goes the full Jon Culshaw and delivers no mean impression of him. The vocals alone are impressive, but I bet the body language was full of lapel grabs and imperious stares down the nose too. Let’s hope the episodes rematerialise one day and we can see it in full.

With a slug or two of Doctor in him, Jano’s a changed man, and not just because he can out Hartnell Hartnell (he even gets his lines right). Suddenly, he’s on the side of the angels. “It’s all very simple,” gloats the Doctor. “You wanted my intellect. You got it, and along with it, you received a little conscience.” Which is certainly a change from the Doctor we met in Totters Lane, who didn’t seem to have a conscience… at least not until he nearly killed himself and his companions by pressing the wrong button.

The Savages tells us something quite different. It unequivocally says the Doctor has a conscience and that it’s an essential element of him, as is a determination to rail against injustice and persecution. It’s part of his life force, indivisible from him. So strong it can influence others.

This, then, is the Doctor as Lloyd and Davis sees him: a force for good in the universe, and one who’s renowned for it.  A hero in a frock coat. It doesn’t start here, but it’s confirmed here and that’s how it has stayed ever since.

LINK TO The Dæmons. Both directed by Christopher Barry.

NEXT TIME… Your train awaits! We have a date with a Mummy on the Orient Express.

Heroes, gods and The Three Doctors (1972/3)

Folks, join me in considering the near complete pointlessness of Mr Ollis (Laurie Webb). He exists to be accidentally transported to a distant world and thus to kick start the events of anniversary shindig, The Three Doctors. His face screams out of an X-ray giving the Doctor (dandyish Jon Pertwee) a clue as to what’s happening and a way into the story. Then, his usefulness is at an end.

Nevertheless, he’s hangs around. Ollis turns up on the barren world to carry a rifle, look unfazed by events and follow everyone else around until he’s returned home at the end of the story. By rights, the trip through the heavens to the world within the black hole should have killed him. But as it didn’t, he just kind of hangs around for the rest of the story.

Noticing Ollis and his superfluousness is a dangerous thread to pull at. Suddenly you realise that none of the supporting characters are needed. Certainly not Dr Tyler (Rex Robinson), once his plot function to bring Ollis’s disappearance to the attention of UNIT is achieved. He too is transported to this neverworld, and once there, he also has nothing to do but splutter bewildered statements and make conversation with the Doctor and Jo (ever devoted Katy Manning). But when you think about it, Jo has no significant contribution to make either. Nor do UNIT men the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, at prime pompousness) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene, at prime gormlessness).

That’s all of this story’s supporting cast – save for a nagging wife and a flummoxed corporal – accounted for. And none of them are really necessary. They’re there simply to keep our leading men company – to pass the silicon rods and tell them how brilliantly infuriating they are. Which is understandable, because the main event is the Doctor meeting his former incarnations. A situation we’re used to after years of such match ups, but which at the time of The Three Doctors, must have felt a giddyingly exciting treat.

****

Who is the hero of this story? It’s a contentious point.

Patrick Troughton is on hand to steal the show away from Pertwee. Many tales have been told of the initial tension between them, generated by their contrasting approaches to the part; one serious and methodical, the other playful and instinctive. If Troughton was trepidatious about returning to the role, there’s no sign of it here. Instead he seems re-energized by the role and more than happy to let Pertwee carry the plot and think he’s the star. Troughton is content to be a constantly distracting presence, reminding the audience that the Doctor can be funny and naughty and whimsical. But this time in colour.

Pertwee sends four episodes trying not to notice. He’s behaving as if Troughton’s another supporting artist in his show, in an attempt to counteract Troughton’s pulling focus. But to no avail. Troughton’s presence pulls the show out of shape. Look, for instance, at his effect on the Brigadier. With Troughton around, the Brigadier becomes slightly unhinged, failing to believe the evidence of his own eyes and making post hoc rationalisations about Cromer. This is really the first story that turns him into a figure of fun, with comedy double takes and wry one liners. Because suddenly we have a Doctor cracking jokes again and he needs a straight man.

Then there’s poor William Hartnell. Hardly old at 64, but clearly very ill, so he needs to be confined to a space infirmary. He’s a shadow of his former Doctory self, his voice uncertain and unfamiliarly light. It’s not just difficult to watch, but also difficult to see – the combination of that strange pyramidal frame he’s perched in, plus the replaying of his footage onto the glarey TARDIS monitor screen. In all, there’s no tangible sense of the first Doctor being present, not just because he only appears in pre filmed segments, but because Hartnell has changed so much since he gave up the role. Given the dubious decision to put such a sick man onscreen in the first place, you have to ask if it was really worth it.

****

Then there’s Omega (Stephen Thorne), a kind of lonely god, sitting in a world incompatible with our own. With that booming voice and his platform boots, he clearly thinks he’s the story’s hero and these Doctors mere distractions.

Around this time Doctor Who built stories around a number of these demigod like super beings: your Azal, your Kronos, your Queen Spider and Omega form a little pantheon that stretches back to the Toymaker and forward to Sutekh. In each case, these beings are so powerful the Doctor cannot hope to defeat them with might. He must use some guile or trickery to defeat them. In this sense, the two Doctors’ approaches to fighting Omega are telling. The Third Doctor tries to mentally battle Omega (which means wrestling with Stuart Fell in a dream sequence) to no avail. The Second prefers a psychological approach; he needle away at Omega with trivialities to test his self control. It’s this method that eventually works.

It makes sense because as the story reveals, Omega has no physical presence; he exists only through force of his own will. He’s pure thought, so it’s fitting that he’s defeated by not being able to see through a trick designed to exploit his emotional instability. No mistake then that his Greek theatre style mask is shaped into a permanent wail of despair.

That mask, apart from being a great piece of design, is significant. It gives The Three Doctors its most effective moment, when the Doctors remove Omega’s mask to reveal that nothing but air fringed by a yellow CSO halo lies beneath. Masks are a common feature of Doctor Who, and usually a signal of villainy at the highest level. They hide a character’s true nature, often, disappointingly, the deformed features of a monster. In Omega’s case, though, it hides a man who’s not there, eaten away by the world which has kept him alive. It’s poetic, but it does suffer a bit from Guy Crawford syndrome, characterised by never thinking to look in a mirror.

Still, it turns Omega into that rarest of things in old Who, a villain who is also a figure of sympathy. The Doctor is remorseful at story’s end that he couldn’t save his people’s mythic hero, not even when multiplied by three. Though as later events will prove, it’s pretty hard to kill someone who exists only as a kind of robed stubbornness, so he needn’t have worried.

****

And how does this momentous story end? With multiple Doctors and Time Lord gods or the renewed TARDIS flying triumphantly off into the vortex?

No, of course not. It ends with inconsequential old Mr Ollis! He returns home to his long suffering wife who understandably wants to know where he’s been. And here’s the most amazing thing of all, he can’t be bothered telling her! That’s because he knows he’s actually the hero of this story! And from his point of view… not much really happened.

LINK TO: Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.DBoth feature not-quite-as-we-remember-them first Doctors.

NEXT TIME: We meet The Husbands of River Song. I hear they automatically believe any story they’re the hero of.

Intuition, inference and Inside the Spaceship (1964)

In the info text on the DVD for this story, it says that writer David Whitaker, in a desperate attempt to fill a two episode gap in Doctor Who’s schedule, wrote this story over the course of two days and nights, barely stopping for sleep. It’s not surprising then that Inside the Spaceship is a dream-like experience, peppered with some arresting imagery but fundamentally incoherent. It’s exactly the sort of story you might come up with, working on three hours sleep a night and with only coffee, cigarettes and the fear of what your next job will be when this series ends after 13 episodes to sustain you.

It’s a tease of a story. It keeps wandering down interesting paths, then retreating from them. For instance, in the first episode Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) comes up with a theory for the blackouts, memory loss and hallucinations the Ship’s crew have been experiencing. She suggests that someone or something may have infiltrated the TARDIS. This is then expanded on by Susan (Carole Ann Ford) who’s doing the whole crazed teenage girl bit, when she proposes that whatever it is could be hiding inside one of them.

The whole episode hinges on this idea. The cliffhanger, where a pair of outstretched arms close around the Doctor’s (William Hartnell) neck seems a bit stagy when you know the story well. But on first viewing I suspect it might have been quite thrilling. We know the rest of our heroes are asleep; therefore these hands must belong to the intruder. It’s not so much, “how will the Doctor get out of this one?” as “who’s in the Ship with them?” But after we find out the assailant is actually Ian (William Russell), dazedly trying to protect the Doctor, this promising plot line falls away.

Another road only partially ventured down is the ruthlessness of the Doctor and what he might do to Ian and Barbara if they got in his way. The show has been building up to this; the first two Doctor Who stories both feature moments where it seems the Doctor might do something terrible about of self preservation. In the first story, there’s the suggestion that he’ll brain a wounded caveman to aid their escape, and in The Daleks, he suggests abandoning Barbara in the Dalek city when he realises the high level of radioactivity about the place. Here, having jumped erroneously to the conclusion that Ian and Barbara have attacked him and Susan and undertaken sabotage, he threatens to throw them off the Ship. Yes, the extent of his paranoia is reached. But he never goes through with the plan and events move on.

What is actually happening is that the Ship is careering back through time to its own destruction, and is desperately trying to warn its inhabitants. That it would do so by knocking them out, inciting suspicion and paranoia, booby trapping the control panel, displaying cryptic photographs on the scanner and melting any available clock faces seems improbable to our 21st century understanding of smart devices. Asking why this most sophisticated of machines has to resort to an elaborate game of charades when it could simply have an error message pop up (“It seems your fast return switch is faulty and the death of everyone on board may result. Would you like me to fix that?”) is fair enough.

The Ship does have a fault locator but it’s a strangely capricious box of nuts and bolts. It’s a device that can indicate if a part of the ship is faulty, but can’t communicate that despite everything working properly, the Ship is hurtling towards its doom. I don’t know about you, but I would have prioritised a code which said, “the Ship is about to disintegrate” over “the fluid link’s out of mercury” or “stock up on more bacon & egg flavoured mars bars”. Except this was a time when fantastic machines could be easily imagined, but the ways in which they might communicate with humans could not.

Hence the baffling explanations given in the script to explain what the Ship’s up to. When the fault locator starts lighting up every indicator it has every 15 seconds, it suddenly all makes sense to Barbara. “We have a measure of time as long as it lasts,” she declares. “That explains the clock face. We had time taken away from us, and now it’s being given back to us, because it’s running out!” Um, what? I sense it was about 1am when Whitaker tapped out that one, probably after eschewing a fourth cup of black coffee and opening a bottle of scotch.

But Barbara’s on a roll: “And it replaced time by the light on the fault locator.” Ah of course. That explains everything. She goes on: “Originally, the machine wasn’t at fault, we were. And it’s been trying to tell us so ever since!” Well she gets there in the end, but that’s some peculiarly fashioned reasoning you’ve got there Babs. But as she tells us earlier in the story, things aren’t always logical. Too true, Babs.

As the story stumbles towards a close (just a few more scenes, David! Throwback that glass and keep going!), the difference between Barbara’s approach to problem solving and the Doctor’s is presented as the crux of the story. “It was your instinct and intuition against my logic, and you succeeded… you read a story into all these things and were determined to hold on to it,” he says to her, exhibiting a bit more this story’s peculiar explanatory style. The point might have been reinforced if it was Barbara who led the Doctor to discovering the stuck fast return switch, but that task falls to the more technically minded Ian. So the triumph of instinct over logic is another one of those ideas only partially explored.

The real point of Inside the Spaceship is that it marks an end to hostilities between the Doctor and his human companions. It’s a reset point, after which the Doctor will never be as ruthless again. He will throw the odd tanty but he now has a full set of willing companions. Given this outcome, it might have been better for all four crew members to have played an active role in solving the problem, reinforcing that having started out as strangers, they have ended up as a team. In short, a little more clarity of theme and a few rewrites would have helped this little stopgap story enormously.

I can imagine the scene when an exhausted David Whitaker turned up to the production office, bleary eyed and unshaven, to discuss the final scripts with producer Verity Lambert.

VERITY: It’s not very logical, is it?

DAVID: No, it isn’t. But does it have to be? I mean, things aren’t always very logical, are they?

VERITY:

DAVID: For god’s sake Verity, just make it!

LINK TO: Utopia etc. Trouble with the TARDIS.

NEXT TIME:  Dress for Rio, because it’s The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood

Eclecticism, endurance and The Celestial Toymaker (1966)

celestial

I expect whether or not you enjoy The Celestial Toymaker is down to how tolerant you are of being shown the same episode four times.

The pattern goes like this: the Doctor (a partially absent William Hartnell) is off playing an elaborate board game with the Toymaker (Michael Gough), sometimes without form and/or voice. Meanwhile Steven (bolshie Peter Purves) and Dodo (chirpy Jackie Lane) play out a twisted version of a children’s game against opponents pulled from the Toymaker’s eclectic collection. The opponents prove to be cheats, our friends win through and on to the next episode. It’s only brought to an end in the fourth episode because it’s got to end sometime. If they could have convinced Hartnell to go on six weeks holiday they probably would have kept going.

Repetition aside, there are a few other problems with this structure. Firstly, the games themselves are inherently undramatic. Deadly tricks and conniving opponents have to be enlisted to ramp the drama up. Judging by the surviving fourth episode, The Final Test, it’s also a challenge to direct them with any flair or tension. Also, the rules of each of the games have to be explained again and again, to, it must be said, tedious effect.

Then there are the limitations it sets on character. With nothing to do but play the games, and explain the rules to each other, and bicker between themselves and their opponents, Steven and Dodo quickly become tiresome company. Steven is irritatingly truculent with everyone he meets and Dodo is so gullible and naive as to make you wonder if anyone checked the script for internal consistency before sending it to the rehearsal room. By the time you get to the fourth episode and she’s in the middle of a deadly game of hopscotch, she’s still getting lines like “I think I’m going to enjoy this game” – despite the last three almost killing her and Steven – you start to think none of this story’s many writers were paying attention by this late stage.

So although there’s little to enjoy about the games themselves, there is some interest generated by the miscellany of characters the Toymaker sends into bat. The most noisome is Cyril (Peter Stephens), who the Toymaker says is the most deadly because he seems so innocent. Nothing about a middle aged man dressed as a schoolboy says innocent to me, but there you go. He appears late in the story, and being such a snide little oik, the viewer finally does want Steven and Dodo to kick his arse and win their latest pointless game.

The most successful of the episodes is the second, The Hall of Dolls. In this instalment, Steven and Dodo are confronted with the Heart family, plucked from a deck of playing cards. Together, they play a game of deducing which one of seven chairs is safe, by testing the other six firstly with lifeless dolls and then when they run out, with themselves.

Apart from the interest generated by discovering if the chair is going to stab you, freeze you or whatever, there’s also the hint that the games might be corrupting Steven and Dodo. When they find a few extra dolls to use as chair fodder, Steven is keen to keep this information from the Hearts. Sadly, though this potentially interesting plotline goes nowhere. Still, the King and Queen of Hearts (Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera) are the most intriguing of the Toymaker’s playthings and there’s something approaching poignancy when they decide to sit in the last possible, but deadly, chair together, in a last gambit for victory.

As for the Toymaker himself, well, he’s an odd fish. He dresses like a Chinese mandarin, for reasons never explained, but he’s played by plummy Michael Gough, with a voice that can cut glass. Unusually for Doctor Who, he’s a comic book super villain, complete with elaborate costume and a title for a name. If he made an appearance on Batman (Holy playtime!), it wouldn’t surprise. He spends a lot of time talking to the mute, disembodied Doctor; that’s about two episodes of one sided conversation which is difficult to sustain. Particularly when all the conversation is about is haranguing the Doctor for not playing his game fast enough and running a commentary on the sedate adventures of Steven and Dodo.

Despite its various problems though, The Celestial Toymaker has stuck in our collective memory. Perhaps because it’s the most unusual of adventure of Season Three, which is some feat when you consider that eclectic collection of stories. Perhaps it’s the most unusual of Doctor Who’s first five years, only to be outdone for weirdness when that pesky Mind Robber came along. But where the stories around this one, The Ark and The Gunfighters, are playful with narrative structure, The Celestial Toymaker is playful only with character and setting; the actual storytelling it employs is pretty standard.

Even so, the Toymaker has proved an enduring creation, very nearly returning to the series in 1986, and making return appearances in books, audios and comic strips. We’re not done with him, it seems. And I often think he’s a ready made candidate for a starring role modern day Christmas special (although no doubt they’d do away with questionable appropriation of dated oriental motifs, as skewered so expertly by Phil Sandifer). Though lord only knows what sort of modern day games they’d be able to drag Bill and Nardole through. A deadly Pokemon Go, I suppose. Or a real life Crossy Frog. While Capaldi and the Toymaker (Miriam Margoyles, if I had any say) duel it out on Guitar Hero.

If a return visit from the Toymaker seems overdue, or even if it doesn’t, we should remember that there’s an alternative universe in which he’s a much more important figure in Whodom. The original plan was for the Doctor to become invisible and then reappear as a new actor. We can all be grateful the production team went in another direction and found a more generic renewal to subject the Doctor to. For one thing, it would have been a shameful way to treat William Hartnell. But for another, surely every subsequent change of lead actor would have required return visits to the Celestial Toyroom? Not just the same episode four times, but presumably the same story again and again. A game we’d tire of playing pretty fast.

LINK TO The Doctor’s Daughter: both feature the Doctor’s disembodied hand.

NEXT TIME: Jurassic emergency! The Doctor frowns himself a new face and we take a Deep Breath.

Monster acting, aspirational directing and The Ark (1966)

ark1

Let’s put ourselves, for a moment, in the flappy latex flippers of the actors who played The Ark’s resident aliens, the mop haired Monoids.

Imagine climbing into that costume for the first time and realising the limitations being imposed on your performance. Firstly, your vision’s severely impeded by the formidable fringe of a mighty, mushroomed shaped wig. Then, in a strong challenge to personal hygiene, you have to manipulate the costume’s only eye with your tongue.

At this point, you might have been forgiven for tearing up your equity card and pursuing a career in something more rewarding like animal husbandry. But only once you try to walk do you realise that even this simple movement is restricted by the costume’s mermaid-like monoleg, and you’ll have to be content with an urgent shuffle. Running’s right out. That’s why they drive buggies, I suppose.

And that’s just in The Ark’s first two episodes, when the action for our alien friends is rather sedate. In the story’s second half, the Monoids have become the dominant species on the Ark. Which is all well and good, but in the 700 years between those two halves there have been a number of innovations which make the actors’ lives not easier, but harder.

For one thing, they have developed speech. Which is fine if you’re the one delivering the dialogue, but as your tongue’s occupied making a fake eye swivel, someone across the other side of the studio’s doing the actual talking. And you have to move your arms in declamatory gestures to indicate that you’re speaking. AND you have to place a hand on your newly acquired collars to further indicate that you’re speaking. AND, as the Monoids are now armed, you also have to carry and unfeasibly long cattle prod device.

I feel particularly sorry for whichever poor sod had to inhabit Monoid One’s sweaty rubber outfit. As chief bad guy, his gestures have to be particularly aggressive: hands raised in command, arms sweeping aside imaginary enemies like chess pieces. All this, plus touching your collar, holding a prod, waggling your tongue, walking with your legs tied together and doing it all with next to no eyesight. No one ever mentioned this at RADA, I’ll bet.

****

Pity also director Michael Imison. As he explains in the ‘making of’ documentary on The Ark DVD, while making this story his contract was coming to an end. He reasoned that if he made a brilliant job of this story, they might be convinced to renew it. And I bet that when he started talking about the production team it sounded like the sort of story that might have scope for some directorial grandstanding: a spaceship the size of a city, the destruction of the Earth, a story pivoting moment with the Monoid-headed statue, a new companion and a promising new race of monsters.

All those big ideas are great. But The Ark‘s big ideas aren’t matched by its execution. Its characters are one-note. The supporting cast’s performances are uninspiring. Production standards are high in the first episode (look! An elephant!) but gradually diminish until the final episode is set on a bargain basement alien planet furnished with invisible aliens and an assortment of tables, chairs and buffets dragged out from stock. The Monoids costumes we’ve canvassed, but the Guardians’ costumes – ribbony togas over sensible underwear – are also unedifying. And the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. Particularly when the wicked Monoids find their voices and start to starkly say whatever’s on their minds, just so the audience can understand their plans.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to see how The Ark – brilliant in conception, but tacky in realisation – was ever going to save Imison’s BBC career. Just before starting recording on the final episode, Imison got the axe. That he didn’t walk off the production then and there speaks to a level  of professionalism, but all the same, he must have been kicking himself that he wasn’t assigned to The Massacre.

****

Then there’s new companion Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane). Producer John Wiles and story editor Donald Tosh had had several attempts to break the mold of the female companion with a number of high concept creations. When they sacked Maureen O’Brien for being a bit uppity about the scripts, they tried in quick succession a Trojan handmaiden and a spage age security agent before flirting with the idea of Anne Chaplet, a Hugenot serving girl. The introduction of Dodo, a typical teenager girl ala Susan and Vicki, seems to be an admission of defeat.

Dodo’s the very picture of teenage enthusiasm. She runs out of the TARDIS, eager to start her adventuring and her first instinct when she sees the partially completed giant statue is to climb it. She’s also a Londoner from the 1960s (and she’s at pains to say that things are ‘fab’ and ‘gear’), the first contemporary companion since Ian and Barbara left; an earthly child, so to speak. She dresses playfully, having raided the TARDIS wardrobe to indulge in some historical cosplay. She’s a clear signal that the show is getting an element of fun.

She doesn’t last, of course, because producer Innes Lloyd took over, and his famously ruthless attitude to recasting would eventually lead to a complete change in the series leads, including the Doctor. And even during her brief tenure, Dodo is toned down, her accent modified, her perkiness blunted. That’s a shame because it gives the sense of Doctor Who being unable to incorporate difference, forcing its more radical elements to conform to an accepted idea of what the show should be. Homogenization is what happens to Dodo and that’s surely what eventually leads to her departure from the show. When you take an idiosyncratic character and make her just like any other girl, then why not change her when you get bored?

Though apparently years later, Jackie Lane became an agent and got to turn down Innes Lloyd for a job. Which must have been just a little bit satisfying. The poorly treated employee had become the boss! Hmm, sounds a bit like The Ark.

****

The Ark mini-quiz! Answers in the comments, if you please.

  1. Why is there a cave painting of a two headed Zebra on the Ark?
  2. Why does Steven – from a far less distant future than the Guardians – nearly die from Dodo’s cold?
  3. Why does the Commander refer to the TARDIS as a black box?
  4. Why does Guardian fashion not change at all in 700 years?

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: In the second episode, “the Doctor and his friends” becomes “the Doctor and his fiends”. Change one letter and change the meaning of the word!

LINK to Inferno: both show the destruction of Earth.

NEXT TIME… We visit the eight-legs on the Planet of the Spiders. All praise to the great one!

Conscience, camaraderie and The Reign of Terror (1964)

reign2

It didn’t take long for Doctor Who to wind up in the French Revolution, a mere eight stories in. Although the show was eager to get there, it proves an uninspiring destination for the fledgling series. It offers little except a series of captures and escapes, strung together with a disconcerting series of coincidences.

It’s really five episodes of runabout, then an opportunity for our friends to stand witness to the downfall of Robespierre and the rise of Napoleon. Still, it gives everyone a chance to dress up, ponce about and end a lot of sentences with the word ‘citizen’. Ah revolutionary France, where everyone speaks English. Along familiar class lines too: posh if you’re well bred, Cockney in you’re not.

Let’s take a detour to the story’s second episode, Guests of Madame Guillotine. In it, the plot inches along. The Doctor (gamey William Hartnell) walks some miles to Paris, taking time out to join a road gang and brain its foreman with a shovel. This is actually of no importance to the plot, but in prison, Ian (dependable William Russell) meets a fellow called Webster (Jeffry Wickham), who gives him a secret message to pass on to a mysterious figure called James Stirling.

This actually pushes the story along a bit, and is played out through a series of filmed inserts, because William Russell was on holiday that week. The only bit of any plot importance in the whole episode, and was done in pre-filmed inserts. The remaining cast shouldn’t have bothered squeezing into Lime Grove Studio D to record that week.

Certainly Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford should have gone on strike. The whole episode consists of them being imprisoned and planning an escape which never happens. Susan, you see, gets frightened by some rats so they decide to give up. Yeesh. That’s not only annoying and sexist, it’s also just dull.

This is not a good story for Susan. Imprisoned and hysterical in the second episode, sick for most of episodes three to four, imprisoned again in the fifth and almost entirely absent from the sixth. No wonder Ford left the series soon afterwards, if this was the sort of material she could expect week after week.

Barbara gets more to do, mostly in the segments when she’s out of prison and once she’s sent poor sick Susan to bed. She’s integral to the story’s most interesting moment, which comes in its fifth episode, A Bargain of Necessity. In it, Ian and Barbara have both allied themselves with a resistance agent called Jules Renan (Donald Morley).

Our two school teachers, usually inseparable comrades, are at odds over the fate of a man called Leon Colbert (Edward Brayshaw, who would later sneer his way through multiple episodes of The War Games). Barbara had got a bit friendly with Colbert, while Ian languished in gaol. But then once Ian escaped and Barbara herself was languishing in gaol (for the second time. It’s that kind of story), Colbert revealed himself to be working for the other side. A shootout ensues, and Renan kills Colbert to save Ian. Babs takes the news badly.

BARBARA: He was a traitor to you. To his side he was a patriot.

IAN: Barbara, we’ve taken sides just by being here. Jules actually shot him. It could just as easily have been me.

JULES: And what about Robespierre? I suppose you think…

BARBARA: Well just because an extremist like Robespierre…

IAN: Oh, Barbara, Jules is our friend. He saved our lives!

BARBARA: I know all that! The revolution isn’t all bad, and neither are the people who support it. It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change.

IAN: Well, he got what he deserved.

BARBARA: You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve.

Barbara is the Ship’s resident historian, and luckily wherever in history the TARDIS lands is on the Coal Hill curriculum so she always knows her subject. She’s often also the conscience of the crew, and the historicals bring out her strength of opinion. The Aztecs famously highlights her willingness to stand against the Doctor’s fatalistic view that history can’t be changed. And here, despite the fact that all their allies have been in the resistance, she can still see value in the ideals of both sides of the conflict, while Ian has long since chosen a team to back.

It’s an interesting theme – the duality of accepted history – one which the series could have explored further. Perhaps story editor David Whitaker wanted to. This incident reminds me of the sentences he wrote for his terrific prologue to his book Doctor Who and the Crusaders. “The next time we visit Earth,” [the Doctor] said, “I hope we encounter a situation where two men are opposed to each other, each for the best reasons… That is the only way to understand the folly, the stupidity and the horror of war. When both sides, in their own way, are totally right.” It sounds like the direction The Reign of Terror could have headed down.

Barbara’s role as history teacher means she is a tangible presence in these early historicals, whereas Ian does not have quite the same resonance. His role as science teacher is only of passing interest to the series. He’s on hand to explain a convenient example of high school science in action, like how condensation works or how to use a pulley, but these are small touches not the whole story. Barbara is able to have her perspective on and reactions to history change a story like The Aztecs or The Reign of Terror, but Ian has no such pivotal involvement in the sci-fi serials.

Barbara’s strong presence in the story is contrasted by the rather weepy one provided by Susan. As the only other female character in the story is a maid, the two provide the story’s major viewpoints of femininity: on one hand determined, brave and fiercely moral, on the other helpless, hopeless and ineffectual. To say 1960s Who is sexist is hardly the newest of observations, but The Reign of Terror shows just how mixed its messages could be.

Given this history, it’s perhaps to be expected that our two Coal Hill School teachers conform to traditional gender roles when it comes to education; she’s into the humanities, he’s about the “hard” subjects like science. If you think times might have changed in this regard, remember that 50 years later, the twelfth Doctor hung around with two Coal Hill teachers as well; she taught English and he taught Maths.

As the French might say, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Except they’d say it in English, of course, Citizen.

LINK TO 42: The Doctor faces a fiery death in both.

NEXT TIME: Do not feed the flying pests! It’s the final end of The Evil of the Daleks.

Top ten, mental things and The Chase (1965)

chase-3

Prose, it’s so last century. Sure, these posts are random and rambling, but who’s got time for that? It’s long past time that this blog embraced the listicle. So here I offer you: The top ten mental things about The Chase. That’s right! I’ve managed to narrow it down to ten.

  1. Domestic Life, part 1.

This action packed adventure starts at home, with the TARDIS crew pottering around not doing much. The Doctor (erratic William Hartnell) is fiddling with his new telly. Ian (William Russell) is reading a sci fi book. Barbara (Jacqueline Hills) is making a dress, while teenager Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) complains about being redundant. So far, so much a reflection of family life. But you have to wonder about these people, who have a wondrous time and space craft, and all the myriad technology within at their disposal, who resort to dressmaking, reading and fixing the TV reception in their spare time. Has any other adventure started so mundanely?

  1. The Time Space Visualiser

The Doctor’s new toy is more than a TV. It’s a TSV: a Time Space Visualiser. It can show you any event in history, which might seem a bit pointless when you have a machine with which you can actually visit those events. But in these early days, the TARDIS is a directionless beast so the chances of successfully piloting the Ship to the Gettysburg address are so slight you might as well just stay at home and watch it on the box. The set itself is enormous (in that typically 1960s way that all technology is) but the screen is tiny. Trying to fit the beast and the series’ four cast members in shot is an exercise in crowding to say the least. Our crew choose some pleasant family viewing: a Shakespeare documentary and Top of the Pops. If only they’d chosen to tune in to Marco Polo. We might have got a clip or two.

  1. Testicles with tentacles

Writer Terry Nation fills his story with exotic aliens, as if trying as many ways possible of replicate the success of the Daleks. In the first two episodes, we get the fairly dodgy Aridians, fishy folk whose crested swimming caps are clearly visible. But they’re more convincing that the scrotumly Mire Beasts, which occasionally lurch into shot to thrash a tentacle unconvincingly at our heroes. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t catch on.

  1. A Dalek which isn’t very Daleky (aka a dislike of the unlike)

You know the one I mean. It stutters. It dodders. It makes mistakes. It’s clear that someone, either Nation, or director Richard Martin, or (my bet) story editor Dennis Spooner thought the Daleks should not be models of uniformity, and that one of a comedy variety would liven things up a bit. Imagine if that idea had caught on. You could have one playing trains and one serving the tea. No, too far, right?

  1. Flight Through Eternity

The third episode is The Feast of Steven come early. A game of two jokey halves, the first set on top of the Empire State building in 1966 (Ian and Barbara resist the urge to leave the Doctor then and there) with a comedy hick (Peter Purves). Although set at height, this is a low point, complete with a boob joke, when a lusty guide leers at a young woman’s chest and says, “as we gaze out across the panorama”. The second half is set on what should be the humourless setting of the doomed Marie Celeste, but Nation squeezes in an, ahem, hilarious section where Ian gets clobbered accidentally by Vicki. All this, plus the first cardboardy attempts to show the TARDIS in flight. Luckily, it doesn’t last an eternity.

  1. Journey Into Terror

The fourth episode is just as weird. What would happen, it supposes, if the Doctor and the Daleks met fictional horrors like Dracula, Frankenstein and a screamy grey woman? How much you enjoy this hammy episode depends on whether you’re charmed or irritated by its premise. The Doctor reasons that they have landed in the recesses of “the human mind”. But as the episode ends, a sign tells us we’re at the defunct 1996 Festival of Ghana, cancelled by Peking. Quite how the Chinese gained control of African amusement parks in the future, and closed them complete with signs written in English is never explained but we’ve certainly missed out on an adventure in a far more intriguing world than your bog standard house of horrors.

  1. The Doctor’s robot, um, double.

He’s so not. Not in long shot, not with the lights down, not while miming to Hartnell’s dialogue. It’s a brave attempt, but no amount of cutting between shots or valiant acting from the regulars can make it work. The Daleks are blind to its faults though: “Success!” one of them crows. “Paramount success! It is impossible to distinguish from the original,” it continues optimistically. That dodderiness is clearly catching.

  1. Magic mushrooms

More from the Nation monster factory. On planet Mechanus, you can be molested by giant mushrooms called Fungoids. Of course you have to wander near one first. Then stand right under it. And let it gently envelop you in its rubbery canopy. But then you just wiggle your way out. So that’s OK then. Again, they didn’t catch on.

  1. What the Mechanoids said

Still more from Nation’s Monsters-R-Us. This time, it’s giant Christmas baubles the Mechanoids (hey – surely they’re due for an appearance in a new series Christmas special?). They’re so big, they barely fit into shot. At one point, our heroes have to catch a lift with one, and they need to squeeze up against a wall to give it room. Unfortunately, their scratchy voices are almost unintelligible, but never fear: I’ve read the subtitles so I can tell you they say all sorts of memorable things like “Eight hundred thirty Mechanoid. English input. Enter.” and “English. Enter. Enter. Zero. Stop.” I hope that’s cleared things up for you.

  1. Domestic life, part 2.

At the end of the story, Ian and Barbara elect to take the Daleks’ ship and pilot it back to 1960s England. There they frolic around on some landmarks and crack jokes on the bus home. It’s hokey, but they were always a pair of old dags, so we’ll forgive them. The Doctor and Vicki watch their homecoming on the TSV. But wouldn’t it have been nice to have this foreshadowed a little; if back in the first episode, instead of tuning into Shakespeare and Lincoln, our teachers had looked longingly at life back at home? Or even if they’d foreseen their return to Earth at the end of the story? Timey flippin wimey!

All this, and we haven’t mentioned Vicki being inadvertently left behind, the killing of a Dalek with a cardigan or Ian’s alarming dancing. Say what you like about The Chase but it really does keep on giving.

LINK to Last Christmas. Both feature the Doctor meeting mythic/fictional characters.

NEXT TIME: Let’s not pretend. You’re very blobby. It’s truth or consequences in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion.