Tag Archives: Jo

Unholy rites, unwarranted slights and The Dæmons (1971)

daemons_1

I’ve got another potential DVD box set for you. It’s called Doctor Who – Unholy Rites. Contained within, The Dæmons, The Masque of Mandragora, Image of the Fendahl, The Stones of Blood and K9 and Company. It’s a collection jam packed with chanting men in robes, pagan temples (above and underground), sinister rituals and would-be human sacrifice. If we squint, we might even find a place for The Awakening, which although being more secular than the others, still includes an malign influence festering underneath a church. And let’s face it,  you can shoehorn that story into any old box set, eh, Earth Story?

Everything I know about occultism I’ve learned from Doctor Who. Apparently, it’s very popular in rural English villages. There’s often a handy group of superstitious yokels ready to help out and indulge in some cosplay. The deity they worship will be an alien of some kind, whose influence can be traced throughout history. They talk a lot about sacrificing a companion, but never quite get around to it. And when people start dying, you don’t want to be one of those robed extras; they’re always the first to go.

Plus the Doctor will be on hand to debunk the whole thing and point out that there’s a good scientific explanation for everything. Just before he waves his magic wand (sonic screwdriver, he prefers), invokes a magic incantations (technobabble, to you and me) and disappears into thin air in his Police Box shaped spaceship. I know, right? Who’d be dumb enough to believe in magic?

*****

Anyway, to the The Dæmons. And to a question it poses which is far more important than whether science trumps magic. It is this: why does sweet, spunky little companion Jo (Katy Manning) put up with this condescending boor of a Doctor (Jon Pertwee)?

Over the course of five episodes, he accuses her of wasting his time, calls her a ‘reasonably intelligent young lady’ but with ‘absurd ideas’, berates her for misreading a map, accuses her of fussing (after she’s just helped him recover from being frozen stiff), smugly points out that she can’t speak Latin, is exasperated when she doesn’t understand e=mc squared, and berates her for calling the Brigadier’s plan idiotic – when he did exactly that just seconds before.

What really takes the biscuit is his reaction after Jo offers to give up her life so that the Doctor might live.

DOCTOR: Well, by a ridiculous and foolhardy act of self-sacrifice, Jo here has managed to save us.

Well, you might call it ridiculous and foolhardy. Others might call it brave and compassionate.

DOCTOR: You see, Azal couldn’t face an act as irrational and as illogical as her being prepared to give up her life for me.

I’m right with him there, mate. She must have been remembering how much she liked you from previous stories, because there’s no indication in this one why she should feel so strongly about you.

DOCTOR: Look, Jo, why don’t you go and get out of that ridiculous garb?

On this planet, we say ‘thank you’. You big velvety jerk.

*****

Jo’s altruistic offer to save the Doctor is a big problem at the end this story. But let’s start at the other beginning.

It’s got a cracking first episode. Beautifully put together. I love the way that the framing structure of the television broadcasts and their countdown to the opening of the barrow delivers the exposition subtly, while also serving to gradually draw the Doctor into the story. Supporting characters like batty Miss Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman) and grumpy old Professor Horner (Robin Wentworth) (of Which University) can be introduced with ease. The Master (Roger Delgado) appears at just the right point in the episode to up the ante. And in the second half, the Doctor’s attempts to get to the barrow hit just enough problems so that everything coincides nicely as big rock is pulled aside, all icy hell breaks loose. Cue credits, job done nicely.

It’s got a reasonably entertaining middle. Lots of running around, with much for UNIT lads Yates (Richard Franklin) and Benton (John Levene) to do, including wear some garish civvies. There are plenty of good set pieces, like the helicopter chase, Benton’s run-in with the invisible forces in the cavern and the attack of the morris dancers (a great unmade Doctor Who story, there). Walking statue Bok (Stanley Mason) is a novel although never entirely convincing monster. And the Master gets a great moment when trying to smooth talk the townspeople, by proving he knows all their secrets. “And you, Mr Grenville,” he purrs. “Has your wife come back from her sisters’ yet? Will she ever come back, do you suppose?” “And who are those muscular young men I see cutting your hedge every Thursday morning?”, I keep wanting him to say, but he never does.

Oddly, the Brig is sidelined, kept outside the main action by a heat barrier until a diathermic heat exchanger (that’s science, you know) can be lashed up by Osgood the First (Alec Linstead). He never gets to meet the mighty Azal (Stephen Thorne) or catch more than a glimpse of the Master. The Doctor too, keeps getting his appointment with the climax delayed. Sometimes by various plot misfortunes, but partly because he takes time out in Episode Three to run the world’s worst PowerPoint presentation on horned beasts throughout the ages.

So anyway, the middle’s fine. But it’s got a terrible ending. After much running around, the Doctor and the Master finally meet in the cavern, with UNIT reunited outside to do battle with Bok. The Doctor’s diathermic wotsit blew up and as he was planning to use that against Azal (who has now grown to enormous size, but somehow doesn’t bump his head on the cavern’s roof), he now has to improvise desperately. The scene is set. That’s when after a brief war of words, Jo offers her life in place of the Doctor’s and Azal goes all purple and blows up.

It makes no sense. Azal is, we’ve been told, an immensely powerful being. He crafted humanity’s progress throughout the ages. Now he meets one pretty blonde girl and is so confused he can no longer function? (Well, it’s happened to the best of us, I suppose.)

My point is though, that endings are hard. They’ve got to be obvious in hindsight, but unsuspected until then. They have to make logical sense, but not able to be pre-guessed. They can’t be coincidental and they can’t cheat. They’ve got to be consistent with the story’s themes. They’ve got to be novel. They can’t be signposted too early. And they can’t just be, “oh, I’m so confused, I think I’ll just give in and blow up a church.”

Think back to that opening episode and how right they got that. Imagine if the final episode worked just as well. For whatever reason, things didn’t fall quite so neatly into place. It shows that telling stories is a science, but telling them well requires an unpredictable element, something we might call… magic.

LINK TO The Husbands of River Song: Hmm, Doctors with red jackets and snowy, voluminous hair?

NEXT TIME… This, sir, is protracted murder! No, it’s just The Savages.

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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.

Underground, overground and Colony in Space (1971)

colony

There’s no small measure of irony in the fact that when the Time Lords finally allow the Doctor (the Pert, in imposing form) a temporary respite from his exile on Earth, they send him to the drabbest planet around. It’s the grey old world Uxareius and although Jo (perky Katy Manning) finds a sole multicoloured flower to spark her interest, all else is bleak. Our heroes soon come across some pioneering colonists from Earth, who are wondering why their crops won’t grow. I can tell them why: their planet’s a clay pit.

The colonists, a dowdy group of would-be farmers with unlikely facial hair (well, the blokes at least) are also being terrorised by giant lizards, because after all, this is a Malcolm Hulke script. (When we catch a glimpse of the creatures, the production team wisely uses some back projection of existing reptile footage. Unfortunately the footage is a of a friendly looking iguana.) The lizards, it transpires, are being faked by some new arrivals, a survey team from intergalactic mining concern  IMC, and the battle for control of this mudball of a planet is on.

The arrival of the men from IMC in Episode Two kicks the story into second gear. Hulke (let’s call him Mac, like we knew him an’ all) is often praised (even by me) for bringing a moral complexity to his Doctor Who scripts, and creating characters whose motivations are a mix of good and bad. Not here, though. Here there are stark boundaries between good and evil. Colonists are good, miners – or more specifically the world of big business they represent  – are bad. They resort to intimidation, infiltration, blackmail, environmental degradation and murder in pursuit of profit. They’re bad ‘uns, through and through.

Their chief is Captain Dent, played with sombre gravitas by Morris Perry. Dent has a steely glare underneath a bizarre combed forward fringe, and even when under pressure, he never raises his voice beyond a quiet ruthlessness. His first meeting with the Doctor is played like aristocratic Generals exchanging pleasantries prior to engaging in battle. And though it soon becomes clear that they’re each other’s enemies, neither loses their cool.

DENT: I can see we’re on opposite sides, Doctor.

DOCTOR: Perhaps. (Toasts with what appears to be a tall glass of Ribena) Your health, sir!

Dent’s the kind of man who flies his spaceship a couple of kilometres to the colonists’ dome because he doesn’t like walking. He engineers a situation where the colonists are forced to blast off from Planet Sludge in a spaceship which is bound to explode, and his only care is that IMC personnel are cleared from the blast site. He facilitates/suffers the various shifts in fortune between miners and colonists which see saw through the story, so it’s a shame that when we reach the climax, he seems to get forgotten. He doesn’t get to go out in a blaze of glory. The last we see of him he’s sitting behind a desk and then events move on without him.

Dent’s the embodiment of cold, calculating villainy, played in contrast to the story’s other bad guy, the Master (stylish Roger Delgado). The Master’s in charge of the story’s subplot, which is far more cartoony and fun than the tit for tat between colonists and miners. He arrives to search for an ancient alien civilisation and steal its galactic doomsday weapon so that he might take over the universe. Pulp sci-fi stuff it might be, but this is the section of Colony in Space which is most engaging. I think Mac himself realised that when he was considering the title for his novelisation of this story, and plumbed for Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, instead of Doctor Who and the Quarrel in the Quarry.

Mac is often credited by script editor Terrance Dicks as the insightful fella who first saw the plot limitations inherent in the show’s early 70s format whereby the Doctor’s stuck on earth and allied with UNIT. Alien invasion or mad scientist was all the series could offer its viewer, he predicted. If only he was as quick to spot the problems with having the Master turn up on a regular basis. “Well Terrance, you have two plots: Master aligns himself with big alien baddies or Master attempts to gain control of some powerful gizmo.” And that generally fits for every Master story until, what, The Five Doctors?

Mac goes for the latter here, and said powerful gizmo is hidden within a underground society with a three strata of aliens: the green, mute Primitives (whose bulbous faces make them look like they’re suffering a nut allergy), the short, mute High Priests (whose even more bulbous faces look like a stone fruit left in a bath) and the Guardian, a… what exactly? A bulbous head on a puppet toddler’s body dressed in a toga. It emerges and retracts into a hatch in the wall with that wavy video effect which usually signifies a bizarre dream sequence, which, to be fair, is what it feels like you’re experiencing this far into Colony in Space. And it speaks like a teenage boy with a ring modulator. All in all, a surprising creature to leave in charge of a device which could destroy the universe.

But then, any surprising incidents are welcome in this sedate six parter. The best parts are when Pertwee and Delgado get to thesp at each other in equal pomposity. While locked in an underground office with some helpful plot-explaining frescos, they stumble across a secret of this long diminished civilisation. Apparently after developing the Doomsday Weapon…

DOCTOR: the super race became priests of a lunatic religion worshipping machines instead of gods.

Oh Mac! Tell us that story! That one sounds interesting!

*****

MY FAVOURITE PIECE OF EXPOSITION IN COLONY IN SPACE AND PERHAPS ALL OF DOCTOR WHO:

MASTER: You know the Crab Nebula?

DOCTOR: The cloud of cosmic matter that was once a sun? Of course.

I think this style of dialogue should make a comeback:

MASTER: You know the foot bone?

DOCTOR: The bone which is connected to both the ankle bone and, via that, to the leg bone? Of course.

But here’s the best bit. Recently, Mrs Spandrell and I went to Uluru in central Australia (if you’re thinking of going, do. It’s amazing). There we went on a excursion to view the night sky with an astronomer as a guide. And half way through, I shit you not, this is what he said to our little group of star gazers.

ASTRONOMER: Has anyone heard of the Crab Nebula?

Folks, I felt as if all my Christmases had come at once. I put on my best Pertwee impression and boomed:

ME: The cloud of cosmic matter that was once a sun? Of course!

No, I didn’t. Of course, I didn’t.

But I really wished I had.

I bet Mrs Spandrell would have loved it.

****

LINK TO Nightmare in Silver: er, is it un-PC to say little people?

NEXT TIME I shall not be so lenient! We swash our buckles with The Androids of Tara.

Greatest hits, villainous love and The Sea Devils (1972)

The Sea Devils

The ol’ Random Who Generator loves a Pertwee and this time we’re smack in the middle of the bouffant one’s five year stretch. This is our fourth story out of the five which make up Season 9, which, I have to confess, was not a year I would have rushed to revisit. But that’s why I’m doing this randomly, to avoid any personal bias in the selection of stories. So I’m getting to know the Pert pretty randomly well.

But for all his charms, his era can justly be accused of being repetitive. Like that Auton story? Here’s another just like it! That Peladon one worked out all right, and we’ve still got the costumes… Let’s do another! Not that playing the greatest hits is the worst tactic ever. But even the production team knew they’d gone a bit far with five Master stories in a row.

The Silurians though (to use its truncated name) was a better candidate than most for a lap of honour. At its heart is one of the series’ best ideas: that there was a civilization on Earth before us and they want their planet back. The Sea Devils doesn’t stray too far from the template it laid down; indeed its working title was The Sea Silurians. It also features the Navy as a kind of sea UNIT, complete with Captain Hart (Edwin Richfield, so dignified it’s hard to believe his next Who role will be as a giant slug in The Twin Dilemma) as a sea Brigadier. I really wish they’d given the Pert some sort of antique boat which could have been his sea Bessie. How the minimum inertia superdrive would have worked is anyone’s guess.

So The Silurians and The Sea Devils have the same basic plot. Reptiles awake ready to wipe out man, Doctor seeks to make peace, but ultimately man’s too xenophobic to work towards peace. In fact that’s the plot of every Silurian story. By the time we get to The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, it really is beginning to wear thin. Funnily enough, it’s the rarely praised Warriors of the Deep which does something interesting with the same old plot, by drawing a parallel between man/reptiles and east/west, fighting for control over the planet.

Recently though, Doctor Who‘s found more use for the Silurians as supporting characters. There’s Vastra, of course, but representatives also turn up in The Wedding of River Song and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. It seems they’re of more interest as an irregular feature of the Doctor’s world than as a recurring monster. I have to agree. That standard template is too entrenched; it’s hard to imagine a what a new – a genuinely new – Silurian story would be. (Although perhaps it’s one which sees Vastra torn between loyalties for an awakening Silurian tribe and her new found human love. Moff, I’m giving these away!)

Still, if it’s hard to do something new with homo reptilia, it’s just as hard to do something new with the Master, at least in the Pertwee era. A quick run through the Pertwee Master stories shows that in every one – every one! – the Master aligns himself with an alien force in the hope of harnessing their power for conquest. He’s nothin’, this guy, without an alien super being or a phalanx of shambling monsters to back him up.

But what is new about him in The Sea Devils is the exploration of his relationship with the Doctor. As we find out here, they were friends once, and they still have a grudging admiration for each other. There are as many scenes of them chatting amiably together as there are of them snarling at each other. The new series takes this even further, making it clear that despite it all, there’s an enduring love between these two misfits. A fraternal love, as expressed when the Doctor cradles the dying Master in his arms at the end of The Last of the Time Lords. And even, now that the Master has changed gender, a romantic love as shown in a couple of well placed smooches in Dark Water/Death in Heaven. It’s the continuation of a theme which first emerges here in The Sea Devils.

The Master’s not in this alone, and true to form, he’s chosen an accomplice of questionable competence. He’s managed to hoodwink his gaoler Trenchard (Clive Morton) into helping him out. Trenchard’s a kind of old school, by jove, its a rum old thing, there’s a turn-up for the books sort of chap, and he seems to think he’s on the trail of foreign saboteurs. He’s not running a very tight ship. Despite all the carry on about security passes, there’s an unlocked window for Jo to climb through in Episode Three. And just about my favourite thing in the story is when the Master has to remind him that he can’t have the run of his own prison. ‘Er, it might be better if one of the guards were to take me back’ he gently suggests upon leaving Trenchard’s office. Once the Sea Devils turns up, Trenchard gets wise to the Master’s scheme and turns on the big green buggers with a natty little revolver, but he’s quickly disposed on before the cliffhanger in Episode Four.

‘What would you say was Trenchard’s strongest characteristic?’, the Doctor asks Hart, as if posing a question on a year 9 English exam. ‘Patriotism’, says Hart generously. I would have gone for ‘boorishness’ myself. But if it was patriotism (and there’s very little onscreen evidence of that), viewers may have recognised another flash back to The Silurians, where the similarly nationalistic Major Barker fought the lizards and lost. Add to this rank the truculent General Williams in Frontier in Space, and we can deduce that writer Malcolm Hulke thought patriotism to be, at best, a dubious virtue.

Still, that’s nothing to the disdain he has for bureaucracy. Trenchard’s replacement as second fiddle baddie for the last two episodes is Parliamentary Secretary Walker (Martin Boddey). We know he’s no good from the moment he walks in, patronising women and wolfing down all the available food. Doesn’t he know that’s the Doctor’s job? Over his two eps we see him be rude, greedy, cowardly, bombastic and all too ready to drop the bomb on our fishy friends. His best moment is when he can’t bring himself to run past a suffering Sea Devil to make his escape and runs back to hide in an office. It’s a pity he doesn’t get a flipper to the back of the neck before story’s end. ‘What you would say was Walker’s strongest characteristic, Jo?’, the Doctor might have asked. ‘Being a complete dick?’ Jo could have suggested and been spot on.

It’s a funny and familiar old story this one, but it’s had a lasting impact. A friend who’s a casual viewer surprised me one day by discussing returning monsters and saying, ‘Sea Devils. All I want is Sea Devils’. What, you want to hear that old story again? I suppose you never get tired of the classics.

LINK to The Long Game. Well, this is not great. But in The Sea Devils a menace from Earth’s past collides with the present day. And in The Long Game, Adam’s knowledge of the future threatens the present day. So, threats to the present day separated by time.

NEXT TIME… This time we’re going back to 1959. The rock ‘n’ roll years! Warm up those vocal cords for Delta and the Bannermen.

 

Colour, change and The Mutants (1972)

mutants1

Doctor Who – now in colour! And how. In the early 1970s, the Pertwee years didn’t just move into colour, they dived into it. Suddenly, the future looked garish. Stories like The Claws of Axos and Carnival of Monsters were kaleidoscopes of colour. You literally couldn’t have made a story called The Green Death pre-1970. Colour quickly became fundamental to the series.

Similarly multicoloured is The Mutants. Metaphorically in its multi-racial casting and themes of racial segregation. But literally too, particularly in its middle episodes when we spelunk into the radioactive caves of the otherwise grey planet Solos, where blobs of multicoloured light thrash about for supremacy. And in Part Six when rebel leader Ky (the wonderfully named Garrick Hagon) transforms into a beautiful space butterfly. Add to this Tristram Cary’s um, challenging, electronic score of beeps and gurgles and you have a particularly Pertwee attack on the senses.

It strikes me that The Mutants  is about change, and different reactions to it. The Solonians are changing into grotesque insect creatures and are blaming it on disease. In fact it turns out to be part of an evolutionary life cycle, linked to the planet’s seasons. The imperialist humans are ready to embrace change too, and give Solos its independence. Only the villainous Marshal (Paul Whitson-Jones, giving a bombastic performance) wants to maintain the status quo and keep the Overlords in control of Solos, and even he has a scheme to change Solos’ atmosphere so that it’s breathable for humans.

Solos’ quest for independence is a clear allegory for that of 20th century British imperial territories. Many such territories, particularly in Africa, gained their independence in the 1960s, so this was a live and topical issue for Doctor Who to tackle. British foreign policy is something of a theme in Season Nine, with this story and The Curse of Peladon both critiquing how Britain interacted with the world around it. Even The Sea Devils, sandwiched in between these two stories, has Colonel Trenchard, a prison overseer who used to be the governor of a small colony. The bleak future career prospects of people like him and the Marshal are referred to again in The Mutants, when the Administrator (Geoffrey Palmer, doomed never to get out of a Doctor Who story alive), suggests that post-Solos they can find him ‘something clerical’ to do.

(I like that idea. It’s as cutting an insult as could be administered to a career bully like the Marshal to suggest that he’s been promoted beyond his skills merited. I can see him being in charge of council rates. “Will you get this into your maundering egghead?! I want your deeds of title notarised and I want it done now!” Or perhaps he could be in charge of domesticated animals. Then he could still go on his mutt hunts. Mutt mad, he is.)

So the independence stuff seems like a product of its time, and yet even in 2014 we saw the Scottish vote for independence take place. And with a Scot as showrunner (not to mention a Scot as the Doctor), we irregularly get references to Scottish independence. We heard that Scotland wanted their own escape ship in The Beast Below (how did they manage it without a star whale?), for instance, and weren’t Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows seceding from his face in Deep Breath?  So far from being a product of its time, breaking free of colonialism is an ongoing political theme for the program.

It’s not that The Mutants was the first political Doctor Who story; we recently randomed The Macra Terror, for example, and noted its fears of totalitarianism. But perhaps The Mutants is the most overtly political story up to that point. It’s clearly criticising imperialism and advocating for leaving other civilisations untouched. The fact that Ky turns into a superbeing and flies about saving the day (and let’s pause here to say hello to The Parting of the Ways, The Last of the Time Lords and Journey’s End) seems to suggest that the better path is to let cultures develop naturally. In effect, to do nothing and let nature take care of business.

Before he becomes SuperKy Guy, Ky fills the role of young firebrand nicely. He’s all dark and brooding and dressed in native tribal chic. It’s a wonder he doesn’t fall for Jo, as most young bucks in Who of this era tend to. He’s important enough to get a message from the Time Lords too, although they send it in a very convoluted way.

Firstly they send a sort of squared off black soccer ball to the Doctor, and get him to take it to Solos (why didn’t they just send it to Ky?). The black soccer ball will only open for its intended recipient, but the Doctor doesn’t know it’s Ky (why didn’t the Time Lords tell him?). When he does get it to Ky, the soccer ball cracks open to reveal some stone tablets covered in unintelligible scribblings (how did the Time Lords get these? And why didn’t they just write Ky a note?). Ky can’t read them, so he takes them to earthman gone native Professor Sondergaard to be translated (why was the package for Ky and not Sondergaard? And, our old favourite, which professorial chair does Sondergaard hold exactly?). Time Lords, eh? Always doing things the hard way.

And striding through all this is the Pert, just beginning the second half of his tenure. By Season Nine, a template is emerging for third Doctor stories. Give him a lab to tinker in to show he’s a scientist. Give him a couple of fights to show his physical prowess. Give him a bureaucrat to belittle and a moral issue to fire up his outrage. Above all, make him looks great; a different coloured jacket each ep, a swooshing cape and frilly shirt. Rings on his fingers and boots on his toes. Patronising and preachy, sure, but a TV series in colour needs a colourful hero and that’s just what the Pert is. And The Mutants is precisely his kind of story.

Adventures in subtitling: Stubbsy becomes ‘scolsie’ at one point. The Marshal’s angry cry of ‘Later. Jaegar!’ promotes the scientist to ‘Major Jaegar!’.

LINK to The Massacre: Both stories feature Marshals.

NEXT TIME: You’re not funny, or clever and you’ve got tiny little legs! Time waits for The Snowmen.

Prison cells, masks and Frontier in Space (1973)

frontier

There’s an embarrassment of riches when choosing topics about Frontier in Space, but let’s start here: prison cells. They’re a common enough feature of Doctor Who and they provide handy settings for narrative functions such as plot exposition and character development. They also mean either exciting escape attempts or bust outs are just around the corner. They can pad out an under running script. And best of all, they’re cheap.

Frontier must win some prize as the story with the most scenes set in prison cells. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee, deep in his tenure in the role, cloak flapping, white hair radiating like a halo) and plucky assistant Jo Grant (Katy Manning) spend most of the first four episodes going from cell to cell. The Doctor even takes a trip to the moon to visit one. Episode Five is surprisingly incarceration free. But a few minutes into Episode Six, the Master (Roger Delgado) purrs, ‘Show Miss Grant to her room’, which is of course, another cell. Phew! I felt dangerously liberated there for a moment.

Delgado is making his last appearance in the program, and he’s on form here, all charming and inveigling. The scene where he convinces the lunar prison’s governor to hand over the Doctor is a particular delight; in it, the Master starts by seemingly flattering the Governor but slyly moves the conversation to show that he’s deduced that the Governor’s up to no good and is prepared to blackmail him. Delgado pitches this scene just right, silky and debonair, but always in control.

But actually, he’s not always like that. In fact, this is Delgado’s fruitiest performance in the role, a long way from the understated menace we normally attribute to him. It’s 80’s Master Anthony Ainley who’s usually accused of chewing the scenery, but here Delgado gives him a run for his money; there’s hardly a line he doesn’t milk for its full theatrical effect. It seems to me that this is a reaction to the general flamboyance on display around him. Big costumes, big design and of course, the big Doctor.

The Master is always, in no small part, a reaction to the Doctor and Pertwee’s Doctor is overtly attention seeking. He doesn’t so much enter a scene as land in it, big, bold and bouffant, ready for confrontation. How else to play his nemesis, but to match him for bravura? The result is that Delgado’s performance seems subtle in comparison, but is actually painted in the broadest of brushstrokes.

Finally, let’s talk masks. The Draconians’ half masks (designed by John Friedlander) which allow the actors more facial expression than your normal monstery types is rightly famous among Whoheads. But while the design and the freedom it allows is new (unless we count the Menoptera? And hang on, maybe the Ogrons too? They make a return grunty appearance here) the Draconians themselves are equally innovative. They’re aliens who aren’t villians, and it’s surprising that up to this point that’s rare in Doctor Who.

But back to those masks, which are a gift to writer Malcolm Hulke, famous for creative morally ambiguous characters both with and without scales. Because it’s pretty hard to give a nuanced performance when no one can see your face, and Frontier requires its reptilian protagonists to be more than just (to borrow Gary Gillatt’s phrase) squabbling rubber.

Hulke came across this problem in his first solo Who, The Silurians, where the “monsters” of the piece (reptiles again. Someone had a phobia), wore full head masks, completely obscuring the actors’ faces. There was an old, sympathetic Silurian and a young, headstrong one, and any debate between them relied strongly on body language (the yound one had an angry head bobble, if I remember rightly, the old one an elderly stoop) and voice acting to portray any difference between the two.

It’s a problem the Draconians avoid.  In Episode Two there’s a scene, where the Draconians retreat to their embassy after a contretemps with the Earthmen (although one is a woman) and two of them have a highly coded discussion about what next steps to take. It’s startling for Doctor Who; usually when aliens have scenes all to their own, they use them to discuss their nefarious plans and spit threats to camera. But here, something much more subtle is going on: “I must not detain you,” the Draconian Prince (Peter Birrell) hisses towards the end of the scene at an underling. “No doubt you have duties to attend to”. What he’s really saying is “go and rescue the Doctor and Jo” (they’re in a prison cell, natch), but his meaning is clear, helped in no small part because we can see his face.

So those Draconians are game changers and Doctor Who‘s producers realised they were onto a good thing. From here on in designs which merged face and mask became more common and gave us some really memorable grotesques: the Sontarans, the Zygons, Davros. And it’s something the new series is still doing today; look at those 21st Century Silurians, where make up has supplanted the mask because we need to see the actor’s face. No need for an exaggerated head bobble now, so thanks Frontier in Space.

LINKS to The Curse of Fenric: The Russians, seen literally in Fenric, are present as Draconians here, albeit ones dressed in the trappings of Japanese Samurai.

NEXT TIME: Blimey, get a girlfriend Jeff! It’s The Eleventh Hour.