Tag Archives: second doctor

Catalysts, chemistry and The Krotons (1968)

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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.

Henry, Mervyn and The Abominable Snowmen (1967)

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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.

Illustration, animation and The Moonbase (1967)

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For many of us, this story started as Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis, one of the foundation Target novelisations. A bold and vivid story of TARDIS turbulence, poisoned sugar and Cyber shenanigans, it gave way every few chapters for some lurid illustrations by Alan Willow.

Each of these had quotes from the book which served as natty little titles for each picture. There was Yeah! It’s the moon’s surface, all right! in which Polly has become Chinese, the Doctor has become an ageing Paul McCartney, Ben has developed the physique of an Olympic wrestler, Jamie has a vestigially underdeveloped arm and the TARDIS scanner radiates straight lines. Is it glowing or is the volume up high? The former, I suppose.

There was It was the shadow of a large figure in which an alarmed Ernest Borgnine is staring wide eyed even though the said shadow of a large figure, complete with handlebar head, is behind him. Again, the figure is radiating straight lines, but shadows can’t glow, right? Maybe this time it’s sound. Or a pungent Cyber odour.

These days you can buy the DVD of The Moonbase and it comes with illustrations too. But these are the animated kind, which make up the missing episodes 1 and 3 of this four parter. Sadly, the animators have not chosen to pay homage to the work of Alan Willow. The Cybermen all have the right number of fingers. The TARDIS crew look roughly like the actors who played them. Nothing radiates straight lines.

The animation of The Moonbase episodes is the latest in a series which helps make incomplete Doctor Who stories marketable to the DVD buying public. They are, on the whole, decent if uninspiring pieces of work. Unusually for these type of projects, the first was the best. This was the animation of two episodes of fellow Troughton Cyberadventure The Invasion by long standing production house Cosgrove Hall. Due to some production serendipity, these animations had a decent budget as a one-off. The results – particularly in sequences which didn’t involve the animating of faces (which seems to always be a challenge to avoiding cartoonish expressions) – were beautiful and moody, a kind of Who noir.

The other stories with moving illustrations have had lower budgets and thus are, perhaps unsurprisingly, less impressive. The detailed line drawing style of animators Planet 55 works well on the metallic Cybermen of The Moonbase, but is a little too busy for the 18th century setting of The Reign of Terror. Its rendering of The Tenth Planet Episode 4 is a similarly mixed bag; nice on the snowy exteriors and snowbase interiors but a bit too confronting when characters look towards camera for big showy close ups, their faces seemingly made up of too many angular planes. Qurios’ work on The Ice Warriors is also nice, but with a more simplistic style than Planet 55’s. Almost too simplistic; the movement of the characters limbs is particularly rigid, their elbows hinging like they’re doing the robot dance.

But I’m not here to criticise what is basically good work on a tight budget from both these companies. The truth is, I suspect, that what makes a good animated episode of Doctor Who is that it’s a good episode to start with. And the action packed episodes 1 and 4 of The Invasion is another factor which helps the Cosgrove Hall stuff.

There’s another element too: whether or not an episode has clips or telesnaps available. In a funny way if it does, it doesn’t help. The Moonbase animations take close reference from the telesnaps, ensuring as close a match as possible with the pictures as transmitted. So the animations strive towards recreation of the originals, as an overarching approach to the work.

This adherence to the source material leads to some nice touches, such as in opening moments of The Moonbase Episode 3, when the reprise of the previous episode’s cliffhanger, which shows a Cyberman leaping off a hospital gurney, retains the bed’s unintentional wobble as shown in the previous ep. In some cases though, it’s almost unthinkable that an animated version would vary too far from what we know about the missing episodes. Could The animated Tenth Planet Episode 4 have ended with a brand new version of the Doctor’s renewal? The Outpost Gallifrey forum would have melted.

But then think again of those animated installments of The Invasion. Free of the constraints of matching up with telesnaps or existing clips, the animators were able to create a style if not all of their own, then at least one which stands on its own merits. It might make for a more satisfying experience than sticking closely to the telesnaps. The trap here is that you can’t take it too far; The Reign of Terror‘s animation was guillotined in DWM for adopting a style too far removed from that of the show’s 1960s origins.

But then Doctor Who has never had an easy relationship with animation. The Tennant years saw some valiant attempts, The Infinite Quest and Dreamland, but they are curios only, not the main game. And now that The Underwater Menace DVD has been abandoned, perhaps we’ll never see another animated missing episode. Which is a shame because despite the reservations expressed above, I’d still like to see the results of animating an entire missing story. The Power of the Daleks, anyone? Or Marco Polo?

Never mind, we’ll always have the work of Alan Willow, who managed to pick some of The Moonbase‘s standout moments for immortalisation in pen and ink. At the book’s climax, for instance, the moment when the Gravitron propels all those pesky Cybes into space is captured forever as One by one, as their gravity was neutralised, they rose slowly into the air. Reams and reams on radiating straight lines beam from the moonbase, as the pointy fingered Cybermen flail above ground. The most prominent one looks plaintively distressed, unusual for this race of emotionless killers. Its letterbox slot of a mouth is tilted downwards in a look of comical dismay. Ah, good times.

LINK to Dark Water/Death in Heaven: Cybermen, and jeez don’t I love an easy link to make!

NEXT TIME: She’s an old ship, full of aches and pains. We embark on a Voyage of the Damned.

Shoulder pads, curtains and The Dominators (1968)

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By far my favourite parts of The Dominators are the Dominators. They come in a mighty invasion force of two. And they wear mountainous shoulder pads which a. make them look like turtles and b. prevent them from looking at each other, unless they are standing face-to-face. This last point’s a real problem, because they spend most of these five episodes bitching at each other.

The leader is Navigator Rago, played by Ronald Allen. Rago is like that irritating flatmate who’s permanently worried about the electricity bill, so goes around switching all the appliances off without asking. He’s always moaning about how much power the Dominators’ robot servants the Quarks require. When he discovers that their energy has been squandered (which happens over and over again), he lowers those dark eyebrows of his and hisses about power levels being dangerously low. I keep waiting for himself to argue that as he’s only been in the house 3 days in the last 7 he should only pay 3/7ths of the bill.

It’s a fairly unedifying role for Allen, who turns up in Doctor Who the following year as a much suaver character in The Ambassadors of Death. What was that call from his agent like? “Doctor Who again? OK, but no dark make up, no dodgy spaceships and it’s got to be a role which does more than growl about the power bill all story. And at the first sign of shoulder pads, I’m out.”

Rago’s offsider is flagrant power waster Probationer Toba, played with seething resentment by Kenneth Ives. Toba’s solution to every problem is to destroy it, via Quark. Hence the constant depletion of their batteries which sparks Rago’s ire. Toba has a kind of barely suppressed blood lust which drives him to want to kill at the slightest provocation. My favourite moment is when he stands mid quarry and  orders the Quarks to “Destroy! Destroy!”, but his restrictive costume means he can merely punctuate each “Destroy!” with a vigourous sway.

Rago and Toba bicker like an old married couple throughout, but Toba always has to bow to his senior colleague’s will with a sullen “command accepted”. At one stage their simmering tension threatens to boil over into open conflict and as a race of belligerent warriors you might expect a few punches to be thrown. But those costumes don’t offer the freedom of movement to allow it. Still, I’d have enjoyed seeing Rago headbutt Toba bull-style in the gut, and leave Toba lying helplessly on his tortoise shell back, limbs flailing.

Unlike Allen, Ives never returned to the series. “Doctor Who? No way. Last time, I had a I costume meant I couldn’t move my arms for weeks. And I spent the whole time standing in a quarry shouting at kids in boxy robot costumes.”

And so to the Quarks. Writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, here writing under an outraged pseudonym, were reportedly trying to recreate the appeal of the Daleks when they dreamt up these odd little cubes with legs and spiky heads. Many had tried before them; Chumbleys, War Machines even Terry Nation’s own Mechanoids were all attempts to replicate that mysterious appeal. And although the Quarks have a sort of geometric charm, they are no Daleks.

For a start, you can understand what a Dalek says. Quarks have squeaky little voices which are, in the main, unintelligible. The DVD’s subtitles are essential. And although a Quark has two more legs than a Dalek, this doesn’t seem to make it any more mobile. At one stage, companion Jamie (Frazer Hines) immobilises one by tipping it over and gently leaning on it. Any alien you can stop by sitting on is not destined for greatness.

The hapless targets of the Dominators’ aggression and the Quarks’ warbling are the gentle Dulcians. Pacifists one and all, they have abandoned fighting and concentrated on loftier pursuits. Sadly dressmaking is not one of them. They dress in unflatteringly revealing numbers which look distinctly like curtains. This is fine if you’re as pretty as Felicity Gibson who plays Kando and manages to transcend her own drapey number. But the other Dulcians must be eyeing off those power dressing Dominator outfits with envy.

Among those Dulcians is Cully, a hot headed young firebrand, who’s all about doing his own thing and sticking it to the old man back in Dulcian HQ. Unfortunately in a piece of woeful miscasting, this young hero is played by Arthur Cox, who looks like a mild mannered insurance salesman. In a dress. There’s nothing wrong with Cox’s acting, it’s just he’s cast mystifying against type. Cully spends a lot of time blowing up Quarks with new bestie Jamie; if anything he should be out highlandering the highlander. But he’s less wild thing than mild thing.

The other Dulcians, be they gormless students on excursion or procrastinating bureaucrats are difficult to sympathise with. And with the bombastic Dominators on the other side of this conflict, there’s no-one to side with really. Haisman and Lincoln designed this story as a critique of pacifism, and if that sounds politically dodgy to you you should read Philip Sandifer’s demolition of this story here.

Me, I find it difficult to take this story too seriously. If there is a politically iffy message behind it, no-one seems to be honouring it with much effort. It’s left to the fag end of the season, its performances and design work are half hearted and it famously bored its producer and script editor into lopping off an episode. (Certainly the right decision; Episode 5 takes a brisk pace missing in the story’s earlier installments). But if you’re looking for a saving grace, here’s Patrick Troughton (in the studio anyway), refusing to let a dodgy script dampen his inventiveness and charm and basically holding the whole thing together.

Haisman and Lincoln were apparently less than pleased with the serial’s abbreviation. Then they got into a stoush with the BBC about who owned the merchandising rights to the Quarks (the Quarks, Lord help us. If Quarkmania was a thing, I missed it). Apparently they even threatened to stop The Dominators from being broadcast. I can picture them now in some dingy BBC office, sniping across a desk at the suits from legal. Glaring and bickering. I like to think of them wearing jackets with big shoulder pads. The Rago and Toba of their day.

LINK to The Tenth Planet: mechanical baddies. Three in a row!

NEXT TIME… How shall we know if gods walk among us? It’s the beauty and horror of The Aztecs.

Mind control, mine controls and The Macra Terror (1967)

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“Don’t just be obedient,” the Doctor tells companion Polly during The Macra Terror. “Always make up your own mind.” Good advice, and particularly Troughtony advice, if you ask me. This era of the program is all about the personal freedom to be different.

Think of the second Doctor’s most familiar adversaries, the soulless Cybermen (God knows I have recently, having randomed both The Wheel in Space  and The Invasion). They are an emphatic expression of uniform conformity, and what mankind might look like with all its quirks and peccadilloes removed. Think of The Faceless Ones, where the threat is that humankind might be taken over by the identity-less Chameleons. Think of The Web of Fear or Fury From the Deep where big, intangible bad guys zombify humans and delete their personalities. Think even of off-the-wall bedtime story The Mind Robber, where the ultimate threat is that a computer with ideas above its station that wants to enslave the minds of Earth. “Sausages!” the Doctor says on that occasion. “Man will just become like a string of sausages, all the same!”

The Macra Terror has a slightly different take on the loss of personal freedom, though. It’s not so much freedom of expression that its enslaved human population lacks (there’s too much music and dancing for that), but the lack of free will. Not so much a string of identical sausages as the right to be a sausage in the first place, I suppose.

In this story, the human inhabitants of a futuristic colony mine gas to feed their overlords, a race of giant crabs, the Macra. The humans don’t rebel because the Macra brainwash them as they sleep, and condition them into lives of toil alternated with a series of jolly, holiday camp activities. They sing and chant and hold dance competitions.

(Even for Doctor Who, the combination of threat and jollity is an odd juxtaposition. And it’s signposted in the first few minutes. The story opens with an extreme close up of a desperate man’s eyes and the thump of a heart beat, like some French new wave film. Then we cut to a marching band complete with an eye-watering electronic fanfare. It’s bizarre, arresting stuff.)

So successful is the Macras’ brainwashing that the humans never think to ask why they mine the gas, or why they never see their Controller in person (he always appears to them in a static, Big Brother style photo). They’ve been made passive, unquestioning slaves, spurred on by shrill motivational jingles piped in like musak. (This, combined with one of Dudley Simpson’s harshest electronic scores makes this story a listening experience to put your teeth on edge.)

And people being hypnotised into passivity is a theme that runs through all three of Ian Stuart Black’s Who stories, so it seems that the loss of free will was a prime concern of his. In The Savages one class of people sucked the life force out of another, leaving the victims passive nobodies. In The War Machines, a mad computer hypnotised people over the phone and forced them to make killer robots.

And although the terrible Macra have a similar modus operandi, they remain a mystery to the audience. We see their big crabby carapaces in the dark, and through portals, always obscured (or so it seems from the telesnaps). Their origins are similarly vague. Are they native to this planet or did they travel here? Why the elaborate scheme to oppress the humans? Surely any species clever enough to concoct and operate such a set up can mine its own gas. Or is it as prosaic a reason as that the Macra can’t operate the precise machinery required with those nasty old claws?

But we should never let plausibility get in the way of a Doctor Who story. I think the story’s concerns about brainwashing are more interesting. Because Who doesn’t do brainwashing. Mind control, yes. But the subliminal feeding of information to influence your behaviour and make you work against your allies? The Macra Terror’s certainly the only story that addresses it explicitly (although we can nod in the direction of The Keys of Marinus: The Velvet Web, and a couple of Malcolm Hulke stories). Here we hear the voices infiltrating the sleep of our heroes and see the results of it when companion Ben (played with consistent earnestness by Michael Craze) turns against his friends.

My limited reading about brainwashing indicates that it gained potency as an idea post the Korean War, with the notion that Korea and China both practiced brainwashing on US prisoners of war. So it makes sense that Ben, the TARDIS crew’s military man, is the one who succumbs here (also, Polly had her mind taken over in Ian Stuart Black’s last script, so it was probably time to mix it up).   The method used here is whispering instructions to the subject during sleep. It works a treat on Ben, but our other heroes – notably Jamie – avoid it.

I single out Jamie, because as I noted when randoming The Highlanders, Ben is on the way out and this is his last full story. Jamie gets the heroic young lead storyline, Ben gets the siding with the bad guys one. To me, it looks like a way of trialling what a Doctor-Polly-Jamie line up would look like, and sadly the answer for Ben is, just fine. It wasn’t meant to be as both Polly and Ben jump ship next story, but that line up is one of Doctor Who’s roads untravelled.

Ben’s brainwashing puts me in mind of The Manchurian Candidate, more often attributed as an influence on The Deadly Assassin. Specifically the 1962 film, where a young man is conditioned to commit treason and murder. It doesn’t go so far here, because the story demands that Ben break free of his conditioning and help save the day.  But still, Doctor Who at this time was often about the potential dangers presented by the modern world; it makes monsters out of limb replacement and threats out of holidays abroad. In this context, The Macra Terror seems to be suggesting that brainwashing of citizens is a plausible scenario: it could happen to you.

It may be going too far to suggest the Macras are a stand-in for communism, but then again… the loss of individuality, the loss of free will, the duped populace and a mind control technique allegedly practiced by communist governments and cribbing from The Manchurian Candidate… Put these things together and there’s certainly a reading to be made along those lines. If that’s too long a bow to draw we can at least say that The Macra Terror is rife with Cold War concerns.

But don’t take my word for it. As the Doctor says, always make up your own mind.

LINK to The Invasion. Both Troughtons of course, but both also feature underground threats and, you guessed it, mind control.

NEXT TIME… Santa’s a robot! We walk down the aisle with The Runaway Bride.

 

Sanity, sleeptime and The Wheel in Space (1968)

wheel1

Hello from the future! Oh look at you back in 2015. Did you enjoy Peter Capaldi’s first season? Wait until he’s rejoined by Amy and Jamie and the TARDIS implodes from the utter Scottishness of it all. And when he gets to the planet Delphon where they communicate with their eyebrows. He does himself a serious injury and is forced to regenerate… Oops, sorry. Spoilers.

But, inhabitants of the past, I have brilliant news. The omnirumour turned out to be true! Every missing episode returned! And you lot thought you were well off when The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear came home from their extended Nigerian holiday. Well here in the future, we have ’em all. Except Time-Flight. We lost that one deliberately.

So what do you want to hear about first? The delights of Marco Polo? The thrills of The Power of the Daleks? Of course not, you’re desperate to hear all about The Wheel in Space aren’t you?

Well, I’m not sure you’re going to be overjoyed with Episode 1, let’s get that out of the way first. For the most part it’s a two hander between Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. And while that sounds brilliant on paper, this is also a kind of one episode filler before the main action starts.

So the Doctor and Jamie land on an abandoned rocket. They’re forced out of the TARDIS. So they have a look round. There’s a silent plodding robot. Then Jamie settles down for a nap. Honestly, when one of your two characters decides to sleep in the middle of an episode, you’re on shaky ground.

And this is filler written by former script editor David Whitaker, so this gives him scope for taking up time with some of his pet subjects. The TARDIS trying to communicate with its crew via pictures on the scanner. Lots of faffing around with a food machine. Mercury. All his greatest hits. Hmm, maybe Jamie’s onto something with that snooze.

Late in the episode (just enough to get paid) the crew of the Space Station W3 turn up and prepare to blast the mysterious rocket out of the sky. The Space Wheel is familiar territory to anyone who’s paid at least passing attention to Season 5. There’s a mixed group of personnel in spacy costumes led by an autocratic male commander. But specifically, this is a multinational crew, so what this really feels like is The Moonbase, which in turn really felt like The Tenth Planet. So innovative, this series.

In Episode 1, the Doctor hit his head and so he spends Episode 2 unconscious, while Troughton takes a holiday. Focus shifts to the Wheel and Jamie has to carry the episode, which also introduces us to new brainiac companion Zoe Herriot (perky Wendy Padbury). Now, this will be familiar to you folk back in 2015, because The Web of Fear had its Doctorless episode 2 returned as well. The good news is that Wheel in Space covers his absence better, with all the introductory stuff about the Wheel – stuff you’d ordinarily expect to find in Episode 1 – being played out. Still it’s always a like a bit less of a party when the Doctor doesn’t show up. So this is another episode which might disappoint when you finally get to se it.

Episode 3, of course, you know and love. But watched in isolation, you may not realise that this is the episode when the Cybermen finally turn up. That’s one third of a monster story without its monster. That’s some delayed gratification. It’s also unusual because the Doctor spends the whole episode in bed. Luckily people keep bringing him plot points to discuss, so he doesn’t have to move much.

He doesn’t actually get out of bed until half way through Episode 4, so he’s well and truly rested. He tries to convince this week’s grizzled base commander that the Cybermen are on the Wheel and are a menace. But Jarvis Bennett (Michael Turner) is having nothing of it.  ‘He’s a strange man to be in a position like this’, says the Doctor and he’s spot on, and not just because his accent wavers from South African to American and back again.

Jarvis dislikes his 2IC Gemma Corwyn’s (Ann Ridler) habit of playing armchair psychologist (in fact the script takes a few jabs at psychology in general, which a number of characters treat with disdain), but the irony is he’s gradually going crackers, and maybe a psych assessment would help. Plus his lines are all delivered with a kind of halting mania, so that when it’s his turn to take a nap mid episode (Seriously! Stay awake through the whole story please!) it’s a blessed relief for the other characters and the audience.

But the most, um, astonishing performance is Episode 4 is that of Peter Laird, who plays Chang. I don’t know anything of Mr Laird’s background, but I’m willing to bet he isn’t/wasn’t Chinese. This, in the worst yellow face tradition, doesn’t stop him putting on an oriental accent. His delivery of the line ‘I’m on my way’ is particularly cringeworthy. If the performances in The Talons of Weng-Chiang make you feel a little queasy, this one’s even worse.

In Episode 5, something approaching tension builds when the Cybermen attack the Wheel and kill Gemma. You feel genuinely sad when this happens. She’s the only character in the whole thing who seems to have her head screwed on right, and one of the few who’s not putting on an outrageous accent. Although she’s very quick to suggest electric shock therapy for Jarvis. You can’t trust those psychologists. Still, it might just be time to attach those electrodes, as Jarvis finally checks out, once Zoe stuffs a dead Cybermat under his nose. ‘Not true, not true!’ he mumbles, despite the tinny, googly eyed evidence in front of him.

And because the story only has two Cybermen at its disposal, much fuss is made about their ability to control humans and thus these walking zombies become surrogate monsters. There’s some fun to be had when two of the Cyber contolled humans (Laleham and Vallance, who sound like a snobby manchester store) take on gruff Irish crewmember Flanagan (James Mellor). Turns out the Irishman is itching for a stoush. ‘If it’s a fight you’re after, I’m your man!’ he roars. ‘You need a few lessons in the noble and manly arts, me bucko!’ No wonder that when Flanagan himself is zombified and turns into a quietly spoken rather passive fellow, the Doctor immediately spots something’s up.

And by then we’re on to Episode 6, which again you know all about and which finally brings the Doctor face to face with the Cybermen. There’s a scene where the Doctor lures them into a room and electrocutes them (Is this the ECT machine Gemma was keen to break out? Were those Cybermen depressed?) and while Troughton enlivens it where he can, it’s all very contrived and stagey. Which is true of the whole story really, a longer, flabbier retelling of other Cybertales.

I hope I haven’t disappointed you too much, history dwellers. But not every returned story can do an Enemy and turn out better than its reputation. But until the whole story is returned to the archives it might comfort you to think that you already have the story’s two best episodes on hand.

LINK to The Ribos Operation. Both introduce clever new companions.

NEXT TIME… I can’t see the point of Paris. So let’s home share with The Lodger for a while.