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Technology, the environment and The Ice Warriors (1967)

ice warriors

Climate change skeptics rejoice! The Ice Warriors is here to back you up. The future will not be about catastrophic global warming, but catastrophic global cooling! See, you knew it was all bunkum, right? Now where’s that Doctor Who story that shows the moon landing‘s a fake?

Ah, I shouldn’t be so hard on The Ice Warriors. It’s fifty years since they made it out of polystyrene, fibre glass and some old manor house sets left over from a period drama. And even if writer Brian Hayles set his thermostat in the wrong direction, he focused in on a concern we still have today; that our degradation of the environment will bring about worldwide, deleterious changes in climate. In fact, this could well claim to be Doctor Who‘s first story to comment on environmental issues.

The Ice Warriors has a lot to warn us about the future, not just that glaciers are coming to crush us all. It’s set in a world where humans have been robbed of their ability to make decisions, having outsourced that function to computers. As a result, they have grown impotent and must faff around for scene after scene, prevaricating about various crises until the computer tells them what to do. It’s a peculiar kind of technophobia, and a bit like the climate change angle, we see this differently today. These days we’re worried that robots will take our jobs and AI will eventually do away with us. Back in 1967, Hayles was more worried we’d stop thinking for ourselves and become slaves of the mind.

Interestingly, his next script, The Seeds of Death, is another variation on this theme. In its version of the future, humans have outsourced another of their critical functions, namely movement from place to place. Having adopted the T-mat system for travelling everywhere, they have lost the knowledge and equipment to travel by any other means. Their over-reliance on the system, like Leader Clent (Peter Barkworth) and Miss Garrett’s (Wendy Gifford) dependence on the decision making computer, leaves them vulnerable when it breaks down.

Doctor Who‘s fifth season is often unthinkingly categorised as the monster season, where bases were under siege and aliens played by tall men towered over a supporting cast of desperate humans. But The Ice Warriors and a few of its contemporaries start introducing a couple of new concerns about humans and the world around them. The first is that it’s possible to meddle with the world to disastrous effect. There’s climate change here, and in The Seeds of Death, and in The Enemy of the World  Salamander can manipulate the natural world to produce earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The second idea is that when threatened, the planet will bite back. In The Ice Warriors, this is represented by the relentless march of the glaciers. In Fury from the Deep, when humans start mining for gas, a mysterious sea weed creature emerges to strike back. So these are not just schlocky monster mashes, but the initiators of themes which will be explored in stories like Inferno, The Mutants and The Green Death, touchstones of 70s Doctor Who.

Not everyone in The Ice Warriors has bought into this brave new world. As a counterpoint to the sterile, authority driven characters of Clent and Garrett, there’s Scientist Penley (Peter Sallis) and  Storr (Angus Lennie). They have chosen to abandon the base and live out in the wilderness, eschewing the artificial life within the base. It Storr’s case, it’s because of a natural distrust of anything which doesn’t come from the natural world. For Penley, though, it’s because he was incompatible with a system which suppresses individuality and creativity. In a world of conformity to a global computerised autocrat, Penley wants to think for himself. This sets him on a collision course with Clent.

DOCTOR: This chap Penley.

CLENT: Best man in Europe for ionisation studies. As it turned out, hopelessly temperamental.

DOCTOR: Temperamental or individual? Creative scientists have to be allowed some head you know.

CLENT: Creative? Poppycock. When he walked out of here he proclaimed himself to be criminally, criminally irresponsible.

DOCTOR: It couldn’t have been just a simple gesture of protest?

CLENT: He was always protesting. And he has a really unconvincing beard! Have you seen it? It’s ridiculous. Like someone with a black texta has mistaken his face for a colouring book.

OK, I may have made that last bit up. But there’s a part of this story which is really about an ongoing office tiff between Penley and Clent which has got out of hand. However, it’s also a new take of the familiar obsession of the Troughton era, that outside influencers will rob us our individuality and freewill. In The Ice Warriors, this has already happened, and the result is a society like that on Britannicus Base, where individuality is crushed, freedom is lost and everyone wears one piece plastic jumpsuits. Penley stands out as the one who has refused to conform. Naturally enough, it’s him we sympathise with and he who eventually saves the day, taking the risky decision to use the Ioniser on the Ice Warriors’ spaceship, even though it might destroy them all. He triumphs when the computer is useless and Clent is paralyzed with indecision.

Into this world of man, machines, the world around us and how they all interact, stumble the Ice Warriors themselves. Surprisingly, they are the least interesting thing about The Ice Warriors. They are generic alien grunts blessed with better than average costume design. In future stories, they will develop a backstory which will make them more intriguing, but here are just sort of present to stomp around and loom over people. The Daleks are nightmarish vision of the results of nuclear war, the Cybermen an expression of what humans may become as technology advances. Even the Great Intelligence and its Yeti henchbots can be seen, if you squint, as reactions to contemporary concerns about the horrors which might be unleashed if you expand your consciousness.

The Ice Warriors have no such allegorical background. They are just big old bad guys, and in truth, they don’t really fit with the rest of the story’s themes. They should really be more, well, Silurian. If they weren’t Martian invaders, but bestial remnants of our own world, who thrived during the first Ice Age and now are coming back as a result of our monkeying around with the climate, then that would fit nicely. Or if they acted illogically and unpredictably, confounding the computer’s ability to exercise its authority, and necessitating a return to human leadership. Anything really, to link them to the story other than, “it’s cold, so we need a monster who likes the cold.”

LINK TO The Unquiet Dead: snowy exteriors and Victorian houses.

NEXT TIME: Knock knock! It’s Knock Knock.

Psychedelia, stimuli and The Mind Robber (1968)

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So here’s the thing: it’s not called The Land of Fiction. Or even The Fact of Fiction. It’s called The Mind Robber. And I suppose that could be an attempt to disguise the nature of the fantasy world that our friends the Trought, the Fraze and Padders find themselves in during this surreal adventure. Not trying to give away the game too soon.

But I think it’s more than simple misdirection. This story is ostensibly about a land of fiction, but is more concerned with attacks on the mind. Perceptions are altered. Characters from fantasy are brought to life. Our heroes experience nightmare situations from twisted memories of childhood. It’s not just a trip into a land of story books; it’s simply a trip. It’s a mind altering experience. It’s Doctor Who‘s only real brush with psychedelia.

The show may have still been seen by many in 1968 as a children’s programme, but the makers of Doctor Who were clearly considering how drug taking was leading to new physical and mental experiences. The show’s first change of Doctor was described in terms of the effects of the ‘LSD drug’. Now two years later, we have a five week break from ordinary Doctor Who, which starts with being taken out of reality, and ends so abruptly that the whole thing might have been a dream. If our TARDIS team had started this adventure by all taking little white pills, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

It doesn’t start like that, of course. It starts with an episode of filler, required when the production team decided they couldn’t face a sixth episode of The Dominators. This opener, written by script editor Derrick Sherwin, although he wasn’t proud enough of it to take a credit, is an unusual the-dog-ate-my-homework sort of effort. With the scantest of resources available to him – the TARDIS set, a blank white studio and an empty black soundstage – Sherwin fills the episode with time-killing incident, none of which he feels obliged to explain. What is the ‘nowhere’ in which the TARDIS lands? How does it relate to the Land of Fiction? Why does the TARDIS disintegrate? Why does an unseen force want to lure our friends outside? And what exactly happens when the console spins away through space, Jamie and Zoe hanging on for dear life, arses in the air, leaving the Doctor rotating on the spot?

There are no answers. Sherwin seems to take his cue from the rest of the story, which being set in a fantasy land, gives him carte blanche to do what he likes and keep the explanations few. It’s a kind of narrative free pass – do whatever you like! It’s The Mind Robber, the normal rules don’t apply. It’s the same approach which allows Sherwin and fellow writer Peter Ling to change Jamie’s face when Hines contracts the chicken pox. Both are story saving expediencies born of this story’s dabbling with surrealism.

So in lieu of narrative logic, the writers give us arresting imagery. Don’t worry about what makes sense, worry about what looks cool. The TARDIS exploding and the console spinning through space are two memorable examples, but there’s also Jamie’s rejigged face (Hamish Wilson), Zoe stuck in a glass jar, a forest of letters, a charging unicorn (on another empty black set), the stop motion animation of Medusa’s snaky head, our friends being crushed in a giant book and so on.

This story serves up a continuous stream of surreal images. There’s even a word puzzle in the middle of it, which requires superimposed letters onscreen to make it clear what’s going on. It’s telling that this story has never been released on audio; it’s a story which demands to be seen. Lord knows what we’d have made of it if it hadn’t survived the junkings.

This smorgasbord of surreal imagery helps add to the trippy feel of the thing. It’s not so hard to imagine having a hallucinogenic experience akin to The Mind Robber, where crazy, random images picked out of memories of childhood stories parade past you. But that’s the style of the story, not the story itself. Within the narrative, none of our heroes ever question the reality of what’s going on around them. No one ever asks, “are we dreaming?” None of them question the reality of this world any more than they questioned whether Dulkis or the Space Wheel were real.

So while everything around them suggests this is a bizarre fantasy, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe never treat this as anything other than a standard Doctor Who story. They cling to their real existence… Which itself is confusing because they are also fictional. When the Doctor starts drawing a line between himself, Jamie and Zoe as being real and Gulliver, Medusa et al as being fictional… Well, it’s so meta it makes my head spin. The Mind Robber? More like The Mind F*cker.

In the end, the thing which has actually stolen a mind is another computer with ideas above its station (see also The Keys of Marinus and The War Machines). It has enslaved a writer from Earth in the 1920s, who has filled this world with copyright-free fictional characters. Why the computer wants to create such a world remains unexplained but don’t worry, it looks cool, right?

As we race to the story’s end, we learn that the computer has plans to invade the Earth, and one of the Troughton era’s familiar themes reasserts itself: the importance of self and of retaining identity. When he hears the full plan, the Doctor’s appalled that humanity will become just like a string of featureless sausages, all the same. And in encouraging Jamie and Zoe to resist the mind control they’ve submitted to, he urges them to “think for yourselves!”.

This then, is the threat of opening your mind up to perception enhancing experiences, as The Mind Robber sees it – that you lower your own mental defences and sinister controlling influences might sneak in. It’s not quite a repudiation of psychedelia, because this story is not quite dealing with it in the first place. But it’s comforting that while Doctor Who flirts with psychedelia, it’s also sending a message to the kids; this might look like fun, but no good is going to come of it, right?

It ends in classic style, with Jamie and Zoe ‘overloading’ the computer by pressing all the buttons all at once (that’s usually how it’s done) and the Doctor rescuing the enslaved writer. They all run onto yet another empty black set and wait for the story to end, as if they’re waiting for a bus to arrive. Somehow it all gets magically put to right. They’re transported back to reality. The TARDIS reassembles. How? Who knows. But it looks cool, right?

LINK TO: Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Well, maybe I’ve been taking the mind altering drugs, but is it too trippy to suggest that the Land of Fiction might be the kids’ lit section of the Library?

NEXT TIME: Dad Shock. We get a lot of it around our place. It’s time to meet The Doctor’s Daughter.

Super villains, trolly dollies and The Faceless Ones (1967)

faceless1“We are the most intelligent race in the universe,” boasts the Chameleon Director (Bernard Kay) during The Faceless Ones. Well, I’m not so sure. I think their convoluted plan to kidnap fifty thousand young tourists and steal their identities has one or two flaws.

  • Firstly, let’s say you need to kidnap fifty thousand people and you’re an advanced alien race. There were 3.4 billion people on Earth in 1966. Wouldn’t you quietly pick off people one by one, scattered around the world, to avoid attention? I’m not sure my first thought would have been to establish a fake airline, offer package tours to young tourists, send postcards home to their families and fly them to a waiting satellite. That’s the sort of convoluted planning we usually leave to the Cybermen.
  • Upon arrival at Gatwick Airport the Doctor and his friends start snooping about. Although Chameleon Tours has been operating under cover for months without detection, Polly (Anneke Wills) wanders into the wrong hangar and witnesses a murder, thus kicking the whole thing off. But when the Chameleons capture Polly, they choose not to simply hide her. They make the odd decision to duplicate her, send her Chameleon counterpart into the airport to interact with all her friends and try to pass her off as someone else entirely. (Which, it turns out, she’s not very good at. She fumblingly reveals herself after about 20 seconds of talking with the Doctor.) If you wanted to duplicate her to progress the plan in some way, why not just pretend to be Polly, gain the confidence of her friends and spy on their actions? Inventing a Swiss alter ego seems unnecessary to say the least.
  • Poor old Chameleon Spencer (Victor Winding, who I hope invented those peculiar text symbols in Microsoft Word). He gets charged with trying to kill the Doctor (Patrick Troughton, by now far less enigmatic than in last random’s, The Power of the Daleks) and he’s utterly rubbish at it. I get the feeling that his human counterpart must have watched a lot of Bond movies, because his methods of attack are unnecessarily supervillainy. There’s a room which fills with icy gas, a wee button gadget which incapacitates its victim when stuck on their back and, most stagily, a slowly moving laser beam which inches its way to our prone heroes. Thankfully, not directly at their crotches as in Goldfinger. This is a family show!
  • “I’m quite sure the first thing you want to do when you get to Switzerland is write home to your parents,” Chameleon flight attendant Ann Davidson (Gilly Fraser) tells a group of young travellers. Here, they clearly haven’t done their research into the 18-25 age bracket they claim to cater too. My bet is the first thing they’d want to do is find the nearest bar, load up on schnapps and make good with that cute blonde in seat 22d. Only after a few weeks would they want to send a postcard home and then only to ask Ma and Pa to send more money.
  • Aviation must have been very different in 1966. Apparently no-one tracked planes in flight all the way to their destinations, and no-one at those destinations noticed that no passengers ever disembarked from Chameleon Tours flights. Not until plucky Jean Rock (Wanda Ventham, but hang on a mo, Jean Rock – what a great name! I hope she had side career as a pop singer. Jean Rock and the Trolly Dollies, or something) checks with the destination airports in Episode 4. After which the Commandant (Colin Gordon) tells her off for incurring the expense of phoning internationally! (And hang on another mo, in a story which is at pains to give most characters first and last names, the Commandant doesn’t even get one. That’s right – he’s the Nameless One.)
  • The Chameleons’ duplication process doesn’t pick up Scottish accents. Which means that when Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Inspector Crossland (Kay again) are copied, they revert back to English accents. Clearly there’s a dial on those armbands set to ‘received pronunciation’. It’s a bit strange that a group of faceless aliens, looking to regain a sense of identity, would then homogenise all the little details that add distinctiveness to those identities. Unfortunately, they never get around to copying almost companion Samantha Briggs (Pauline Collins), so we’re stuck with her would be Liverpudlian accent throughout, flippin’ heck, ta ra luv and so on.
  • The ‘originals’ – the paralysed human beings copied by the Chameleons – have to remain untouched for their Chameleon doppelgängers to survive (which itself is a unfortunate flaw in the system). Luckily, they have been hidden where ‘they will never be found’. Or so the bad guys boast. Actually, they’ve been hidden on site at Gatwick, in the car park. The car park! A place that hundreds of people traverse through and where the originals could only have been spotted through the rigorous investigation of looking through a windscreen. The height of villainous cunning, it’s not.
  • Finally, there’s the real schoolboy blunder of making your own people’s survival dependent on some natty arm bands (all about wearables, these Chameleons) worn not by them, but by their originals. Which you’ll remember are safely stored, where they will never be found, in the car park. So of course when they are found, that enables the Doctor to fiddle with the armbands and blackmail the Chameleons into giving up their nutty scheme and head home. I mean, if the originals and their armbands are so vital to the survival of your species, then take them with you. You could store them on your own satellite, which might be marginally harder to locate and infiltrate than the car park. Just sayin’.

The Chameleons keep up an ongoing stream of insults about the intelligence of human beings through out The Faceless Ones. “Their minds can’t cope with an operation like this,” Captain Blade (Donald Pickering) sneers at one point. Well, you’re right there, mate. I certainly can’t make head nor tail of it.

LINK TO The Power of the Daleks: Both Troughtons and both from Season 4, but also, both start with a man being shot.

And as we’re talking, hasn’t it been a while since we had a new series story?

NEXT TIME: You will run, it will walk. You will rest, it will not. We’re trapped in the puzzle box called Heaven Sent.

 

Whitaker, wiles and The Evil of the Daleks (1967)

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Whenever the Doctor arrives in 1966, it’s time to hit the town. In his last incarnation, he hit London’s hottest nightspot. The second Doctor’s tastes are more sedate. He and Jamie (those buddies the Trought and the Fraze) content themselves with a coffee bar. Still, there are miniskirted girls there for Jamie to flirt with and a rocking soundtrack consisting of The Seekers. Wow, what a groovy trip, man!

But enough of such frivolity. Revisiting The Reign of Terror and now The Evil of the Daleks in quick succession has got me thinking about David Whitaker, story editor of the former and writer of the latter. (Spoiler alert: he’s my LINK between these two stories).

I’ve been doing some Googling and I’ve realised how little we actually know about him and his career. There’s only one interview for DWM before his death in 1980 at the shockingly young age of 51. Most of his other TV and film work either pre-dates Doctor Who so is probably long lost, or is not much remarked upon. Frustratingly for me, his TV work undertaken while resident in Australia is documented only by credits on IMDB. The producers of An Adventure in Space and Time omitted him completely.

How can we know so little about the man who crafted so much of our favourite show’s crucial first year? The man who introduced Patrick Troughton’s Doctor? And who wrote, as he and the show’s producers expected it to be, this random story, the one they intended to end all Dalek stories?

I think it’s because he feels more familiar than he is. That’s because of the sheer number of episodes he wrote (33, not counting the written-by-committee The Ambassadors of Death) which are mostly well regarded, and he wrote those two stellar novelisations of The Daleks and The Crusade. We (or at least, I) have taken this man for granted.

All this gets me around to saying that I have to guess at David Whitaker’s take on Doctor Who, because despite being a key creative force at the series’ genesis, I don’t really know what he thought made the show tick. But I would suggest that he was very proud of his connection to the Daleks, perhaps almost to the point where he felt some shared authorship of them. Certainly, he has an indelible link to that first Dalek story, having story edited it (and I suspect writing large chunks of it, if we’re to believe Terry Nation’s reputation for writing sparse scripts), written the novelisation, and contributed to the movie version. Plus he wrote the Dalek stage play, and the Dalek comic strip and when tasked with writing the Daleks out of Doctor Who, he returns the Doctor to their city on Skaro, the place where all this mania began.

What strikes me about The Evil of the Daleks, is how different Whitaker’s take on the Daleks is from Terry Nation’s. In Nation’s serials, the Daleks are plain speaking, declaratory bad guys. They are simple; they wish to enslave and exterminate. There’s no nuance; what you see is what you get. On casters. But the Daleks of Whitaker’s stories, first The Power of the Daleks and then Evil are very different. Because Whitaker’s Daleks are deceitful.

In Power, Whitaker’s Daleks convinced the gullible inhabitants of the Vulcan colony that they were obedient household help. “I am your serv-ANT!,” they chanted on that occasion and it fooled everyone except the Doctor. In Evil, they go one further and this time manage to deceive the Doctor into thinking they are making him work out the distinctive characteristics of being human, when in fact they are working out the distinctive characteristics of being a Dalek. (They needn’t have got to such elaborate means. I can tell them what the Dalek factor is: shouty, cross, bin-like.)

Evil is inherently about mixing up what’s human and what’s Dalek, and it’s this which seems to interest Whitaker most. In this story we see Daleks become like human children, and a human – chief nutbag Maxtible (Marius Goring) – become like a Dalek. But more subtly, it’s the ability of Whitaker’s Daleks to deceive, to cajole and to inveigle which makes them seem more human and therefore more interesting than Nation’s Daleks. They mimic humanity’s traits as never before. The most telling example is when a particularly wily and genuine Dalek pretends to be one of the humanised versions in order to gain the Doctor’s trust. (The Doctor’s not fooled, and in show of intelligence and cunning to match the Dalek, shoves it off a cliff).

Whitaker also introduces an almost seductive element to the Daleks (yes, you read that right), highlighting their ability to convince humans to become their unwitting allies. In Power it was Lesterson, who almost fawned over the creatures in an attempt to further his knowledge. In Evil, it’s Maxtible whose arrogance leads him to believe he’s a ‘colleague’ of the Daleks and not their hapless crony. Both speak in reverent, hushed tones about the Daleks, as technological wonders. This allure is quite different from the cold political convenience that Mavic Chen (Nation’s take on a human ally of the Daleks) saw in them.  Whitaker’s Daleks have an almost magical influence over people. In Evil, we have the first example of a human under Dalek mind control in Arthur Terrall (Gary Watson) and a number of characters speak about people coming under ‘the power of the daleks’.

It’s telling that given the opportunity to write the Daleks out of the series, Whitaker pulls out all the stops. Back in his days as story editor, serials were set in either the past, present or future. Evil is set in all of them.  We revisit the settings of The Daleks by returning to Skaro, and if Whitaker’s initial ideas had got off the ground, the Doctor would have made friends with a caveman, recalling the show’s very first story. This is a rare example of a sixties era story mining the show’s own past. And why not, as Whitaker was an architect of that past.

But he doesn’t rest on his laurels too long. There’s the Emperor Dalek, the biggest, baddest of them all and a civil war with Daleks fighting Daleks. All this plus time travel by mirrors, metal turned into gold, an impossible antique shop and a mute Turkish wrestler. No wonder Evil has maintained fans interest over the years, long after it was junked. There’s so much in it to talk about. But at its heart, I think, is not this juxtaposition of diverse elements, but the desire to make the Daleks as conniving, as darkly alluring and as fascinating as any human villain.

Is this what was going on in Whitaker’s mind? We’ll never know. But it’s been one hell of a trip.

NEXT TIME:  Treeees! Once upon a time, we’ll take a walk In the Forest of the Night.

Catalysts, chemistry and The Krotons (1968)

krotons2

I wonder when it was during the production of Season Five, that someone on the production team counted how many ‘base under siege’ stories they done. Blimey, there are a lot of the buggers. It’s no wonder that by Season Six, they wanted to try something different.

It’s a wild old thing Season Six. One minute they’re heaping scorn on a world of pacifists, the next they’re taking an excursion into a story book, the next it’s James Bond with Cybermen. The series really did take a sudden left turn away from isolated scientific outposts, truculent commanders and lashings and lashings of foam.

Certainly, I think writer Robert Holmes noticed, because in his debut story for Doctor Who he inverts the standard Season Five structure, by placing the alien Krotons crystalline base (ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for Miss Dinah Trope!) inside the humanoid Gonds’ city, and have people constantly trying to break in to get at them. It’s the Krotons’ base which is under siege. Nice work, Mr Holmes. You’ll go far.

Holmes tells the story of how the Dynatrope sits like a permanent tumour in the heart of the Gonds’ city. The Gonds are educated by teaching machines provided by the Krotons, and every so often, the two smartest swots are given fancy cloaks and sent inside the Dynatrope, never to return.  This is the state of affairs that the Gonds have put up with for thousands of years and the reason why they’ve never rebelled is that the Krotons have edited out all the information which might have helped them put two and two together.

“It’s a kind of self-perpetuating slavery,” muses the Doctor (the Trought, in playful form). He’s right, but it’s also a throw back to one of this era’s other themes, of whole races of people kept subordinate by being deliberately kept in ignorance. Think of the hapless colonists of The Macra Terror, or more recently the subterranean dupes of The Enemy of the World. I’ve written before about how this era of the show is often about threats to personal identity, but this theme is about the ability to enslave through manipulation rather than the threat of physical violence.

But as is so often the case, the arrival of the Doctor is a catalyst. Hotheaded Thara (Gilbert Wynne) leads an attempt to vandalise the teaching machines. In 1968, students rioted against authority on the streets of Paris, so we can see the mirroring of real life events. But it’s not an analogy Holmes keeps up for long. In plot terms, the machines are needed to facilitate the Doctor and Zoe’s (Wendy Padbury) entry into the Dynatrope. They answer a few sums on the machines and are declared ‘high brains’ so are given access.

In fact, our heroes’ brains are so high that they cause the reanimation of the Krotons themselves, creatures who get less impressive the further you get away from their heads (which are solid angular creations on broad metallic shoulders, which unfortunately give way to plastic tubing arms, which unfortunately give way to a smooth shiny skirt). They emerge out of bubbling tanks, like some Hammer horror off a mad scientist’s bench top. Holmes penchant for the gothic gets an early workout here (Holmes will pull off a similar tanky reanimation a few stories later in Spearhead from Space). When they speak, it’s with booming South African accents, which, as The Sontaran Experiment will tell you, is the go-to accent for strange and alien. We never get monsters which speak with French accents, mores the pity. Or Swedish. Or Dutch. The campaign starts here.

But despite these glimmers of interest within The Krotons, the rest of it is a shabby affair. Not just because the sets and props look terribly creaky (perhaps they spent all this story’s budget on The Invasion) but the script is nowhere near as witty and well rounded as we’ll learn to expect from Holmes. The supporting cast are all fairly unimpressive, but it’s not like they’re helped along by any memorable dialogue or consistent characterisation. A howling example comes at the end when head Gond Selris (James Copeland) sacrifices himself to get a bottle of acid to Zoe and the Doctor. His death goes uncommented by everyone, including his own son, that firebrand Thara. You really are a forgettable character if your own son can’t be arsed to mourn your death.

*****

It’s easy to write The Krotons off as tacky, uninspiring addition to Troughton’s era. But in some ways it’s a story which has continually punched above its weight. It really shouldn’t exist at all; it was commissioned as a fall back option in case any other stories had to be shelved. Which is exactly what happened – imagine how awful The Prison in Space must have been if they thought making The Krotons was a better option.

But it’s wasn’t to be so easily forgotten (try as we might). It gained prominence by its inclusion in the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season in 1981, by virtue of being the only surviving four part Troughton story at that time. For many fans, this makes The Krotons their first taste of Troughton’s era, and so I think it’s gained a special place in people’s memories, if not affections. (It kind of happened in Australia too, when in 1986, we suddenly got repeat screenings of this story and The Mind Robber). And that’s not so bad, because although the story’s pretty ordinary, Troughton, Zoe and fellow traveller Jamie (Frazer Hines) are on good form trying to liven things up, so at least an impression of their joint chemistry had been formed by The Krotons’ encore viewing.

Even more recently, we haven’t quite been able to give up on this story. Lawrence Miles’ terrific Eighth Doctor novel Alien Bodies, turned the doddery Krotons into Dalek killing predators. And Big Finish Productions, those champions of long forgotten B-listers of Whos past, conjured up a Return of the Krotons for the Sixth Doctor. We can’t quite seem to let these also-rans go.

It’s in part because we’ve grown to admire the work of Holmes so much through his subsequent, more interesting Doctor Who stories. We want to go back to this, his earliest, formative work and re-examine it, to find in it some speck of genius which has been hidden from us for so long. Surely Holmes, that master of Who, hid something up his sleeve which we can find in retrospect. Sadly, though, I don’t think he did.

*****

Mad old Season Six. What did it have in store for us next? Why, The Seeds of Death, with lumbering monsters, an isolated scientific outpost, a truculent commander and lashings and lashings of foam.

Ah well, maybe after the terror of The Krotons, there’s still some comfort to be found in a base under siege.

THING I COULDN’T FIT ANYWHERE ELSE: All the episodes start with a shot of a circle, or some vaguely round shape. What’s that about then?

LINK TO Castrovalva: actually it’s about the same as for The Enemy of the World – a small community kept in ignorance of the true shocking nature of their world.

NEXT TIME: Burn with me! We’ve got 42 minutes till we fall into the sun.

Missing episodes, wishful thinking and The Enemy of the World (1967/8)

Enemy-of-the-World

We live in a world where you can watch The Enemy of the World. All of it. Isn’t that amazing? It’s been three years since those long lost episodes came winging their way back from Nigeria, and I still can’t quite believe it. I feel I can’t be trusted to critically assess this story, I’m just so happy it’s back.

Well, I say “it’s back”. To me, and to many other fans not old enough see this story on broadcast, it was not really returned. We never had it in the first place. It’s essentially new Who. We thought we knew it because we’ve read the book, heard to the soundtrack, seen (most of) the telesnaps. But we didn’t really. On viewing, the story revealed dozens of exquisite details which could never have been gleaned from any of the versions we previously made do with: the Doctor’s outrageous flirting with Astrid, the woman randomly pushing a pram past Kent’s office, the look on Kent’s face when he drops the prop listening device thrown at him by Bruce…

Oh and that final scene. Shot on film, and so clumsily appended to the end of Episode Six, but with Troughton acting against himself, that punch in the gut, Salamander being dragged out along the floor, and nothing – nothing – matching up with The Web of Fear Episode One, not even that little sticking paster on the Doctor’s face… How glorious. A miracle.

The sheer unfeasibility of it is not just that the episodes have been recovered. It’s also that the story is also complete. That’s thrillingly rare. And it’s almost too obvious to say, but it’s a story which benefits hugely from being whole. Each episode, although languidly paced, pushes the plot forward so that every installment ends in a very difference place from where it started. Given this structure, how could we have made much sense of this story from its previously solo Episode Three? Sure we read the book, listened to the soundtrack, but Enemy shows us that you can’t fully understand a story until you can see it all.

*****

I’m quietly obsessed with Doctor Who‘s missing episodes. I’ve been reading about them for years, fantasizing about their return. I’ve thought for a long time that were I to suddenly become ridiculously wealthy, I’d give up work and travel the world looking for missing episodes. But then I read Philip Morris’s accounts of the dangers he faced in Africa retrieving these episodes, and I’ve decided to leave it to him.

But still there’s scope for make believe.

What if, I sometimes feverishly wonder, I started collecting 16mm films. Might I make contact with a collector with a copy of The Sea Beggar, who’d trade it with me for a song? What if I found a stash of old film cans in some disused edit suite, and there, sitting neglected were Episode Five of The Abominable Snowmen, Episode One of The Highlanders or maybe all of The Myth Makers?  Would I know what to do? Who would I take them to? Can I safely open them? What if I smell vinegar? For the love of God, what if I smell vinegar?!

I jest (slightly). I can’t really see myself as Telecine Jones, Missing Episodes Hunter. But then my thoughts turn to what other people might turn up, and how that might change how we view Doctor Who.

What if we had one of the later episodes of The Evil of the Daleks, one of the wackier ones with humanised Daleks and Dalekised humans? Would we like that story a little less? What if we had one of the later episodes of The Space Pirates, perhaps one set on Ta? Would we like that story better? I feel a bit smug about The Enemy of the World because I always thought Episode One would improve its reputation, and it turned out to be a cracker, with so much of it on film and lots of action sequences. Little did I guess we’d get it all back.

Then there’s the game of speculative swapping. Which would you rather have returned: the two missing episodes of The Invasion or the two missing episodes of The Moonbase? Do you want an episode of The Massacre (of which we have nothing) or the final episode of The Tenth Planet (of which we have all but)? Which episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan do you want back? (Dumb question. Always The Destruction of Time.)

But the true agony of the missing episodes is not knowing if any more exist to be found. The tally stands at 97. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps it’s not, but we’ll never know exactly which eps remain to be found and which are gone forever.

Although that’s not quite true. We have some idea, which is enough to lead us down a whole new avenue of speculation: which episodes are the most likely to turn up? The Web of Fear Episode Three, it seems, is out there somewhere. The Feast of Steven is probably gone forever. How could so many prints be struck of Marco Polo and not one episode survive? What happened to those viewing prints of The Daleks’ Master Plan? Did someone really see The Macra Terror at a high school in New Zealand in the 1980s? Should I be on a flight to Aukland to undertake an extensive audit of all secondary colleges right now?

No wait, calm down. How easy it is to get feverish about this topic.

Because that’s how much we love this strange little show. The thought that there’s 97 episodes of it we’ve never seen gnaws away at us. Worse than that, what, a dark little voice inside us says, we die, and the next week they find The Power of the Daleks? What if we had died without seeing Enemy? Not worth thinking about.

*****

It’ll be ages before watching this story seems normal, in the way that watching The Tomb of the Cybermen now seems like a perfectly ordinary thing to do (I’m old enough to remember when that was an impossible task too). Until then, I’ll just stare at it vacantly, smiling benignly and paraphrase an apt line from the similarly named The End of the World: “Forgive me, The Enemy of the World, but it’s remarkable you even exist”.

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: Jamie’s war cry of ‘Creag an tuire!’ becomes ‘Brigadoon!’. But I think this happens on some other Troughton DVDs, so perhaps it’s an in joke?

LINK TO The Wedding of River Song. Doctory doppelgängers.

NEXT TIME… Castrovalva, here we come.

Henry, Mervyn and The Abominable Snowmen (1967)

abom2

HAISMAN: Henry, you mad old bugger!

LINCOLN: Why Mervyn, you objectionable old boor!

HAISMAN: Quite ridiculous to see you, old man. Tell me, what are we going to write next?

LINCOLN: Well, funny you should ask. The other day I bumped into Pat Troughton.

HAISMAN: Who?

LINCOLN: Who?! Doctor Who, that’s who!

HAISMAN & LINCOLN: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

LINCOLN: So…. anyway, Pat lives around the corner from me.

HAISMAN: That’s funny, I thought he lived around the corner from me.

LINCOLN: I think he does sometimes. Anyway, he was saying he’d love us to write him a Doctor Who. He says they never do any shows set on planet Earth!

HAISMAN: What about the one set in the battle of Culloden?

LINCOLN: Apart from that one.

HAISMAN: And the one set in Gatwick Airport.

LINCOLN: And that one.

HAISMAN: And the one set in a Victorian manor house.

LINCOLN: Anyway, we should write one. What do you think?

HAISMAN: I don’t know… Science-fiction. Could be tricky.

LINCOLN: No, no. That’s the beauty of it. Apparently the producers have reduced it down to a formula. You get a small number of characters, set it in a military base or a space station or somewhere isolated, think up some monsters to menace them, Pat turns the table on them in the final reel, and you’re done! Apparently it’s all they do these days.

HAISMAN: Well, that doesn’t sound too hard. Let’s start with the monsters. Maybe Doctor Who discovers some strange and mysterious creatures from myth and legend.

LINCOLN: Oh yes? Doctor Who meets the Loch Ness Monster, for instance?

HAISMAN: Good idea. But they wouldn’t have the budget to do the Loch Ness Monster convincingly.

LINCOLN: Doctor Who and the Egyptian Mummies?

HAISMAN: Good lord, you don’t want to petrify the kiddies!

LINCOLN: Hmm, what about the Abominable Snowman?

HAISMAN: Not bad, thought might be a bit hard to sustain six episodes with just one monster.

LINCOLN: Doctor Who meets the Abominable Snowmen.

HAISMAN: I thought there was just one?

LINCOLN: Mervyn, we’re writing a show about a man who flies through space and time in a police box. We can increase the number of Yeti.

HAISMAN: True. But aren’t they supposed to be shy, elusive creatures?

LINCOLN: Well, maybe they’re not real Yeti. Maybe they’re nasty, brutish robots disguised as Yeti.

HAISMAN: Right. So. Robots disguised as Yeti wandering round… The Himalayas, I suppose. How will they do that on a BBC budget?

LINCOLN: Not to worry. We went to Wales last holidays. Very picturesque. Lots of hills.

HAISMAN: OK, so robots disguised as Yeti, in Wales. What are they up to? Taking over the world I suppose?

LINCOLN:  Yes, that’ll do. Hang on, who built these robots?

HAISMAN: And who disguised them as Yeti?

LINCOLN: And are they going to talk, so they can spell out their evil plan?

HAISMAN: Hang on, maybe there’s a controlling influence of some kind. Like a Yeti King or something.

LINCOLN:  Or maybe a controlling intelligence. Formless, invisible and best of all, cheap!

HAISMAN: The Intelligence. Doesn’t sound very menacing.

LINCOLN: Call it the Great Intelligence!

HAISMAN: Much better. So is this all set on the side of a mountain somewhere.

LINCOLN: That sounds cold. No, let’s set it in a Buddhist monastery. The Intelligence can possess one of the lamas there and he can be King of the Yeti.

HAISMAN: Is there something a bit iffy about suggesting that a non-Western house of religion is exactly the sort of place where a formless evil might fester and take over humans for evil?

LINCOLN: No, I don’t think so.

HAISMAN: I mean, could we set it in a Christian monastery instead?

LINCOLN: Out of the question. I’ve got to save that for my book about the Holy Grail.

HAISMAN: OK, so monastery, possessed lamas, Yeti robots. Is it enough for six episodes?

LINCOLN: Sure it is! And if not, we’ll have a Yeti cave on the mountain that people will have to keep traversing between. And various people can get possessed and have to capture Yeti and so on. And Pat can put on a big coat and be mistaken for a Yeti. It’ll be a hoot.

HAISMAN: Perhaps there should be glowing pyramids of power!

LINCOLN: Sure, why not?

HAISMAN: What year should we set it in?

LINCOLN: 1935?

HAISMAN: Any reason?

LINCOLN: Not particularly.

HAISMAN: Well, this is just writing itself!

LINCOLN: OK, let’s flip for the typing. Heads or tails?

HAISMAN: Heads. (Coin flips)

LINCOLN: Tails! Suck it, Haisman!

HAISMAN: (sighs) OK, give me the names of the characters.

LINCOLN: Right, so there’s Thonmi.

HAISMAN: Hang on, is that Thonmi or Thomni?

LINCOLN: Songsten.

HAISMAN: Wait a minute – Songsten or Songtsen?

LINCOLN: Padmasambhava

HAISMAN: Oh sod this, I’ll end up with carpal tunnel syndrome at this rate!

LINCOLN:  Here’s a thought, should we have any female characters?

HAISMAN: Do they allow lassies into monasteries?

LINCOLN: Christian ones, no. But who knows what those heathen Buddhists get up to! Don’t give me that face Mervyn, it was a joke.

HAISMAN: Well, Doctor Who travels with a young girl. Won’t she do?

LINCOLN: Fine by me. She can get into trouble and squeal and stuff.

HAISMAN: Yes, just the ticket. Now, can we copyright the word Yeti?

LINCOLN: I don’t think so. That’s a shame, they could be the next Daleks!

HAISMAN: Yetimania! We could be rich. Must make sure we retain the merchandising rights if we can.

LINCOLN: Agreed. Well, that’s a good day’s work, Mervyn, I think we’re onto a good thing here.

HAISMAN: Yes indeed. Is it too early to start thinking about a sequel?

LINCOLN: Never too early for that! But surely the Yeti only work thematically in the Himalayas?

HAISMAN: Oh yes, I suppose so. Couldn’t have them marching around modern day London, I suppose.

LINCOLN: Oh no. Far too silly. That would never happen.

*****

ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING. Victoria gets labeled ‘Polly’ at one point.

LINK to The Sontaran Experiment:  Both sets of monsters like globes!

NEXT TIME… May the Gods look favourably upon you while we Sleep No More.