Brief interlude – Enemy of the World and Web of Fear Revisited

So today the ‘Lonely Planet’ declared Scotland the third most awesome place to visit in 2014, which doesn’t sound like an insult, but it was still one place below fucking Antarctica, implying that next year is going to be a shit one for traveling. It then goes on to list several things well worth avoiding as being reasons for this high position on the list. Scotland is a great place to visit, but you’d have to have all the taste of a second hand tetley teabag to think that an overgrown sports day is anything to get remotely excited about.

All of which makes me delighted to be talking about Jamie McCrimmon once again. Even if they did put him in something other than a kilt for parts of Enemy of the World*.

The original plan of this blog was to go through each episode of Doctor Who in order. Sadly, as some episodes were missing ever since their original broadcast well before my birth, I was only able to enjoy them as audio productions. Awesomely however, Enemy of the World and Web of Fear have just been (mostly) rediscovered and given that there is a natural pause here between seasons I thought it would be sensible to go back and watch these episodes and see what was missing from the audio versions.

There have been previously missing stories that when discovered many fans turned out to prefer the audio version. Tomb of the Cybermen, for example, seems to lose a lot of atmosphere when you get to see the wobbly overlit sets and bad Cybermen costumes. This is most definitely not the case with Enemy of the World, which only gains from the visuals. The first episode in particular is an absolute delight to see, with the elaborate chase sequences which just don’t translate as sound effects, not to mention the priceless image of the Doctor paddling in his underwear. But the real treat is the extraordinary double performance from Patrick Troughton. There’d always been hints of it in episode 3, but getting to see the whole thing really brings home what a feat of acting it was. I’d always quite enjoyed Enemy of the World, having seen it in all its original glory I’d now rate it as one of the better Troughton stories, particularly of those not including Zoe, by extension making it one of the finest Whos of all time.

 

While there were not many qualities of the audio Enemy of the World that I felt might not have been in the original, Web of Fear always had a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere which I was slightly scared might not translate. Happily, I am a foolish person, and in this case was very wrong indeed. The overlighting that pretty much every other classic who suffered from is not at all in evidence here, and the sets are outright fantastic. It is abundantly obvious why the authorities in charge of the London Underground were outraged when this show first aired – you could easily mistake the tunnels for the real thing. The only real downside of being able to see what’s going on is that the Yeti, as before in The Abominable Snowmen, look fucking lame. The atmosphere generated by the claustrophobic feeling environment more than makes up for this though.

All in all, these two stories only gain in the discovery of their originally broadcast versions. Both of them positively crackle with that undefinable magic of 60s Doctor Who that the show never seemed to manage to recreate after it went to colour. I was looking forward to seeing them purely as a fan of the show, and excited to see stories thought missing, but both of them turned out to be excellent viewing in their own right. Its hard to describe to a non-whovian the excitement felt when one of the missing episodes is found, but its nothing on watching one and finding out just how good some of them actually are.
*I’m never letting that go.

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The Dæmons

Written by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts

Directed by Christopher Barry

“Every newspaper in America, with very few exceptions, has a daily astrology column. Astrology is bunk. Astrology is fraud. How many of them even have a weekly science column?”

Carl Sagan 1934 – 1996

“try anything once except incest or Morris dancing”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900

I like this opening with a quote lark. I’m no good at saying clever or insightful things, so I might as well let someone else do it for me. Unfortunately, so far this week the most intelligent and insightful things were said by a man best known for sexually harassing his wardrobe assistants. I irrationally dislike Russell Brand for two reasons: he looks like a more handsome version of me, and he’s not George Cole*, so when he says something smart, which he actually quite often does, I get quite cross.

A few posts ago I talked about how the boring rural fuckhole that is Buckinghamshire had been going through something of a transformation in the 60s and early 70s into a hotbed of horror and sci-fi madness. Up until now Who had mostly left the horror to the blokes at Hammer, but with the Dæmons that was set to change. Although is it set very much in the UNIT era, the whole story is infused with the gothic atmosphere of the best Victorian horrors, particularly the first episode or so, which has a fair amount of action at night. Later on Who would embrace that gothic atmosphere to a much fuller extent, and watching The Dæmons its easy to see why. There is something undeniably appealing about it, and it sits very well with Pertwee’s dapper style.

As for the story itself, the Doctor’s constant debunking of everyone’s superstition is a joy to behold, even if pretty much every technical sounding word to come out his mouth is 100% pure unadulterated gobshite. Everything moves along at a smart pace and never quite gets bogged down despite being somewhat on the long side.

Sadly, the budget and time limitations of Who meant that some the of dæmonic effects don’t translate to screen quite as well as they could. Low budget as they may have been, but the hammer guys usually managed to created a better dæmon than a bloke in a hallowe’en mask and tights. They could afford an elaborate and pointless helicopter chase though. Go figure.

I’ve said before that I felt like the huge overexposure of the Maser in this series was both a blessing and a curse. There is no story that I would ever want to taked Roger Delgado away from, but confining the Doctor to one planet, in one era made the show a lot more monotonous than it had been**, and having only one villain for a series only exacerbated this. That gripe aside, Delgado is nothing but fantastic in this story. The way he swings from brash overconfidence to abject fear in a fraction of a second is just one of the spectacular feats of his performance.

While on the subject of the Master, I’d like to remark on what a great name he has. On the surface, in normal parlance, a doctor is someone who helps people, while a master is one who subjugates and oppresses. Which works pretty well for a hero/villain pairing. In technical academic speech, however, a doctor is someone who has obtained a doctorate degree, such as a PhD (or a DPhil if you’re in Oxford), whereas a master is someone who has obtained a masters degree***, a step below a doctorate****, meaning that the Doctor’s name right out implies that he is at least more qualified than the Master.

Much as I love the Master, by the end of this series it rather felt like the writing staff were trying to force a popular recurring villain on the audience, rather than letting one grow organically from villains never intended as being recurring. There were a number of such monsters in Who’s past, but the best of them, the most terrifying by far, the one’s who had helped make the show the stunning success it was, had seeming left the show forever some four years previous. But as I’ve said before, despite what many may think, it was always the Doctor himself that made the show. None of his villains could ever survive on their own, and try as he might, Terry Nation never could get his murderous spice shakers to work in any context other than who, so sooner or later they were bound to return. But in what way would they make their appearance? Find out next time in Day of the Daleks.

*I sort of wish I had an irrational dislike of everyone who is not George Cole, not just the ones who have played Flash Harry.

**yeah, most shows are thus confined. Most shows don’t run for fifty years.

*** derived from the very earliest degrees, which were effectively apprenticeships in philosophy – you’d go from being an apprentice philosopher to a master philosopher upon completion of your masterpiece, like any other craftsman, which is what a dissertation is. Sorry for that sidetrack.

**** I only have a masters. And an inferiority complex. And a goatee. Wait, I don’t like where this is going…

Colony in Space

Written by Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Michael E. Briant

Mid last week a bunch of crybaby rightwing pisspots finally gave in and let America go back to work*. They really should have known better; Obama is clearly a man of many faults, or else he wouldn’t be a politician, but a man with that much cool is never going to lose that sort of battle. The thing that upset the pisspots in the first place was the apparently heinous notion that they should care about other people and maybe offer an insultingly basic level of healthcare. The sort of attitude on display here is some of the foulest Randian selfish gobshite imaginable; that this tiny group of people think that they should be able to hold the entire planet’s economy to ransom for their own unpopular self serving agenda, all the while putting thousands of people out of work, while demanding to get paid for not turning up to their own jobs.

It is exactly the sort of attitude shown by IMC, the villains mining corporation in Colony in Space. In many ways it is not at all surprising that the villains of this story would exhibit that sort of anti-capitalist, corporations-are-cunts sort of attitude which I’m so fond of, since it was written by hard line Marxist, Mac Hulke. The folly of unhindered corporate expansion, virtue of the worker and the importance of putting others before yourself are all themes intricately explored in Colony in Space, topped off with a good helping of pacifism and ultimately a subtle push for nuclear disarmament. Great as all of that is though, what really shines though as brilliant in Mac Hulke’s work is his unwillingness treat any group or race as anything other than a collection of individuals. Among his colonists are more than one dafty who thinks that hitting shit will solve something. Among his corporate shills dwells the ultimately very heroic Caldwell.

Not that it’s all plain sailing for Colony though; it does have a good number of issues. Not least, the notion of supporting colonisation of an already populated planet. When the fuck has that sort of thing ever ended well? The planet sure as hell shouldn’t be sued for mining, but those colonists really ought to fuck right off and find their own damn planet, that one already has an indigenous population of ‘primitives.’

The biggest problem on display, though, is that it can at times be really fucking boring. Like many stories from this era, 6 episodes is just too damn many.

So after almost two years there was finally a story where the Doctor actually got to go further than the earth’s orbit. And it was, in many ways, a good one. Issues aside, this story drove home a (mostly) positive message about the importance of pacifism and the dangers of corporate power. It also probably has my favorite Brig moment ever, which was sadly really the only Brig moment at all. Now that the Doctor had returned to alien environments would he be able to settle back on earth? I hope not, but probably. Find out next time in The Dæmons.

*Of all the stories covering this, that is clearly the best one, since it has the title of episode 13 written in huge letters about a quarter of the way down.

Mind of Evil & Claws of Axos

Mind of Evil written by Don Houghton

Claws of axos written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin

Mind of evil directed by Timothy Combe

Claws of Axos directed by Michael Ferguson

Okay, so, first things first. I’m really fucking excited by the newly discovered episodes. Last year I almost wet myself with excitement when two episodes were found, but now NINE. Fucking 9. Almost two full stories. And an early appearance from the Brig. Nice. But anyway, on with the matter at hand.

Surprising as it may be there do exist people who do not find the subject of prison reform interesting. These people are, of course, lame. The conundrum of how to deal with people who have proven themselves dangerous to the public while keeping everyone safe, treating prisoners with basic humanity and shutting up the hate-peddling middle England daily mail reading fuckwits all at once it obviously a vastly interesting one. Almost as interesting as the fundamentals of human thought, the structure of the brain and nature of good and evil.

Which is why, in my view, Mind of Evil is the most disappointing Who thus far. All the elements are in place to have a really interesting story, but what we ended up with was a bland trudge through all the previously mentioned U.N.I.T. era tropes. Doctor and Brig bickering? Check. Jo in a short skirt? Check. Benton looking confused? Check. Master cavorting about? Check check check.

Claws of Axos doesn’t, on the surface, have a lot more to offer. The show was very much still stuck in its rut. But the quality of the writing here is a bit better. The writing team of Barker and Martin weren’t ever spectacular, but their stories were constantly good, and Axos is no exception. There is even a hint of that very British sense of humour that would go on to define his writing when he helped create Wallace and Gromit.

One of the great strengths of Axos is that the Master is by no means the villain. In fact, he spends almost as much time working with the Doctor as against him. Axos isn’t even the main villain either. That dubious honour would go to the bureaucratic, petty and greedy British establishment, whose constant striving to pass the buck almost leads to the destruction of earth.

sadly, the fact remains though that this does not have a whole lot to differentiate it from the two or three stories preceding it. What who really needed was a story that wasn’t set on contemporary earth. Thankfully, the production staff had managed to wrangle exactly that happening. Finally, the Doctor might actually get off world in Colony on space.

Terror of the Autons

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Barry Letts

I feel like I’m starting to get a bit cliched every time I compare a member of the government to a Doctor Who villain, but when one of the colossal cunts declares that they want to completely cut benefits to people under 25, while simultaneously describing themselves as the party of hope, the only conclusion is that they are either remarkably stupid or downright evil. I’m not sure about some of his cabinet, but David Cameron is far from stupid. Meanwhile, some wee gobshite, who this time is clearly remarkably stupid, wants to force people to work for benefits, thus forcing the people who had been doing those jobs out of work, onto benefits and ultimately back into the jobs they had, but this time without a wage. Unless they’re under 25, and then I guess  that they’re just expected to starve.

All of which is so fucking disgusting that this upstart villain, some bloke in a beard called the Master, looks a bit petty. After all, all he really wants to do is use an army of aliens to take over the earth and kill everyone on it.

The origins of the master came, I believe, from a conversation between producer, and this time director, Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, who thought that the Doctor was a bit like Sherlock Holmes*, and decided that he needed a Moriarty. I’ve no idea why: Moriarty was shit. But it seemed to work. The Master is pretty much the third part of the Doctor Who villain trinity, along with the Daleks and the Cybermen. The main things that make the Master stand out are that he is an individual, rather than a whole species, and that he has no real motive. Much like villains from comics of that era, the Master is pretty much motivated by being evil. Which would be dreadful if it were not for one factor – Roger Delgado. His slightly camp, very dapper and slick performance takes all the aspects of a victorian mad scientist, and brings them together to create something entirely new. I always got the impression that he rather liked the Doctor, but was a bit anti-social, and didn’t really know how to show it, so kept just trying to kill shit to get his attention.

The Master’s not the only important new character to show up in this story though: the production staff were clearly fed up with having a companion who was more than something for the Dads to oggle. While recent companions Zoe and Liz had both been as attractive as anyone could possibly ask for, they were also capable of at least keeping up with the Doctor intellectually. Unfortunately, the same can not be said of Jo Grant. I’d be shocked if she were capable of keeping up intellectually with half a ham sandwich. Still, she comes across as quite nice, and does get into trouble quite well.

With the arrival of the Master and Jo all of the elements were in place for the classic U.N.I.T era. For the next three years or so you could generally expect to find similar types of stories from Who – the doctor and the Brig bickering, Benton getting confused, Yates being bashed on the head, varios car chases around the Home Counties, Jo in a short skirt and the Master trying to kill everyone. It is fair to say, in other words, that Who was in a bit of a rut. That’s not to say that all the stories were the same though. Some had other alien threats. Like evil munching brain leeches. Fun? Find out just how much, next time in Mind of Evil.

*He’s not, the only things they have in common is that they’re constantly explaining things to less clever people. I’ve not idea what the fuck they were thinking.

Inferno

Written by Don Houghton

Directed by Douglas Camfield (episode 1 and 2) & Barry Letts

My sister is a geologist. Also, she is a nerd. A few years ago she told me of an ill fated attempt to drill down to the Mohorovičić discontinuity (also known as the MoHo) named, appropriately enough, Project Mohole. It did not work out well. I was pretty delighted, therefore, not long afterwards to discover a Doctor Who story based on this this failed enterprise*.

Apparently though, the idea of a Who story based on people digging a big hole just wasn’t sexy enough for the production team, particularly if it had to go on for seven episodes. Clearly a bunch of other elements, most likely picked out of a hat at random, needed to be added. Que the entry of hairy neandertal things and mysterious gunge that regresses people to their primal instincts.

Oh yeah, and the parallel dimension where everyone’s a Nazi.

How a sci-fi show like Who went for nearly seven years without dabbling in the murky pool that is inter-dimensional revelry I do not know, but when  they finally got round to it they really did it well. The whole Nazi motif had been well and truly done to death by this point: they’d been the bad guys is every damn film, comic and TV show for coming on for three decades now, including Who, which simply dressed them up in bumpy costumes and funny voices, but here a very different take on them is presented, with their blind efficiency, rather than racist shenanigans, being the focus of their antagonistic tendencies.

Even better than all that fascist madness though is that the parallel universe allowed them to do what they could never do in any other story: destroy the earth. Yup, the whole thing. In a universe where everyone is an authoritarian cunt, so its probably okay.

If I had to pick a nit about this story, it would be with the characterisation of the Brigade Leader. Every other parallel character is, at the heart of it, the same as they are in the primarily universe, but having grown up in a world of fascists. Some of them, like Sutton are exactly the same. The Brig, on the other hand, could not be more different. The Brig we all know and love is one of the bravest characters in the show. Barley an episode he’s in goes by without him coming close to death in order to save to world. The Brigade leader, on the other hand, is just as cowardly as the Brig is heroic. I’m not going to moan too much though, as Nicholas Courtney clearly had so much fun playing the double role. He needs that ’tash though.

Jon Pertwee’s first year as the Doctor, against all odds and expectations, somehow ended up working out as an unmitigated success. Four of Who’s finest stories can be found here, thanks in no small part to a spectacularly talented regular cast and crew, alongside a great set of guests. It  wasn’t likely that this level of storytelling would be able to continue sadly, particularly as the inevitable repetitiveness of the earthbound stories would soon begin to kick in. Happily, not all may be lost though, as next time we are introduced to a  rather dapper goateed antagonist, in Terror of the Auton.
*Not the only geological reference in this story; their peppered throughout all over the place. At one point the Doctor and the Brig have a wee chat about the loudest volcanic eruption on record.

The Ambassadors of Death

Written by David Whitaker, Trevor Ray, Terrance Dicks, and Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Michael Ferguson

Yeah, so today it was announced that this man will be playing the 12th Doctor. I for one cannot fucking wait. Now all they have to do is cast Ian McShane as The Master and we can look forward to the all time greatest swear-off of all time.

Enough of the far future though, right now, as far as we’re concerned, it’s 1970 and the story Who is currently on is The Ambassadors of death. I will admit though that I’m a total sucker for space travel stuff, I nearly had a nerdgasm the other day when the ever excellent Chris Hadfield posted this graph, so maybe not everyone will be quite as excited as I am when it comes to discussions about fuel variants and G force, but for those that do, this story has that in abundance. Don’t worry though, Ambassadors has arguably the greatest action sequences of any classic Who story. From shootouts to helicopter madness, the rather lengthy seven episode length is constantly punctuated by high octane action awesomeness. I just feel sorry for producer Barry Letts, who probably was the one who had to justify the resulting colossal overspend to some dickhead executive in a suit who didn’t realize that people would still be watching the show over forty years later.

If I were to have any complaints about Ambassadors it would be that at some points it does seem to meander somewhat. Part of the rambling nature of Ambassadors is probably down to the huge number of writers on it. The story is credited to probably my favorite early Who writer, David Whitaker, but after struggling with a number of drafts Whitaker was eventually paid off in full by script editor Terrance Dicks who took over himself, along with his friend Mac Hulke and Trevor Ray.  This crowded writer’s room could well account for the lack of direction at some points. What’s more to blame, I suspect, though, is the seven episode running length. Thankfully though the combination of great writing, great acting, and some of the finest action sequences in the show’s history, along with some unusually sinister atmosphere, combine to make Ambassadors a rather good story.

Worth mentioning as well is the superb work done by the restoration team. When I first saw this story some years ago it had not been restored. Several of the episodes existed in balck and white, and a good number of the reels had been badly damaged, at times degenerating to the point that it was not possible to make anything out at all. Indeed, I was not at all surprised when 2 entertain announced that the DVD release was being delayed for the foreseeable future. But watching it now you’d never know that there had ever been a problem. The chances are, in fact, that it looks better now than it did when it was originally broadcast.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the music in Who. Throughout the ‘60s and early ‘70s the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop was a movement in electronic music all in its own right, every bit as important the one Stockhausen was heading up in Deutschland. As a bit of a fan of Elektronische Musik and other form of early signal noodling I have heaps of old Radiophonic Workshop anthologies kicking around at home (many of which were compiled by the wonderfully multi talented Mark Ayres). I never really made the point of mentioning it during my favorite period of the Workshop’s output, which was probably around ‘67-’68, but the excellent score By Dudley Simpson, maybe my favorite non-Workshop Who soundtrack, reminded me that I probably should mention them at some point.

As with many Whos, particularly the Mac Hulk ones, it turns out that the bad guys are not the creepy lookin’ aliens, but misguided humans. The Doctor seems to know this right from the start though, so it was never really in doubt. It all work out well in the end though.
So thus far the earthbound third Doctor has seen off a bunch of aliens and a few mad scientists to boot. What next then? How about a bunch of people trying to dig a big hole. And some parallel universe Nazis. And neandertals. Fuck yeah.

Doctor Who and the Silurians

Written by Malcolm Hulke

Directed by Timothy Combe

Richard Dawkins is known for many things. Nowadays, he is probably most famous for being a militant, outspoken, and many would say obnoxious ambassador for atheism. More importantly, he is known for being married to former Doctor Who companion actress, Lalla Ward. But once upon a time he was known for being a biologist. Not just any biologist either, he came up with one of the most important theoretical notions in the field since Darwin and Wallace published their theory of evolution by means of natural selection. In his book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins argued that life forms such as yourself should best be viewed not in terms of our own life span, but more of a vehicle, a means for our individual genes to achieve immortality. From this viewpoint he was able to form a tremendously insightful, partly hopeful and partly chilling conclusion: that if we perceive a fellow life-form to have enough genes in common with ourself we will do anything, even sacrifice ourselves, in order to help it survive, but if we do not feel that they are related enough to us then we will callously go about destroying them with no remorse. He even came up with a perfectly balanced set of equations showing that either course of action, be it altruistic self sacrifice or selfish genocide, were equally valid from our gene’s point of view. In doing so he explained, from an evolutionary standpoint, how humans were capable of both extraordinary altruism, and heinous atrocities. Whether or not we can accept others in this way is down to empathy.

One of the more interesting things about Dawkins’ equations though is that they do not just relate to humans – they relate to any life form that has come about due to evolution through natural selection. Everything alive, in other words*. Its clear in Doctor Who and the Silurians that it certainly applies to the eponymous Bug Eyed Monsters. Which is in many ways deeply insightful of writer Mac Hulke, since Dawkins’ book was not published until six years after this show was aired.

Silurians was one of the earlier classic Whos that I watched, and even no I remember being struck at its marvelous maturity. This is a sci-fi story in which neither the humans or the monsters are the villains, but there are small minded members of both groups who are spoiling for a fight, while others, again in both species, are striving for a peaceful outcome without bloodshed. This story is not the first in Who to do this, The Sensorites was similar in this regard, but Mac Hulke really pushed the point he was trying to make to the fore.

For a seven parter the pace isn’t too bad either, though compared to shorter stories it is a bit soggy. The disease sub-plot introduced half way through to add some more tension in the latter half works to some degree, but ends up mostly being the Doctor and Liz hanging about in a lab ogling petri dishes while the Brig answers the phone. Exciting.

Rather depressingly, the ultimate villain of the piece ends up being the Doctor’s companion, and rather than ending peacefully, shit gets all blowed up, much the their disgust of the Doctor. In fact, the Brig here is responsible for one of the worst atrocities in Who history – the Doctor will do worse, but he always had good reason, whereas the Brig’s only excuse is that he was following orders**. But this again only serves to further demonstrate the greatness of the show – a show in which even the character responsible for the most repugnant acts can be a respected in their own way.

So far, the crippling changes made to the show at the end of the last season were actually seeming to work, but could the show keep delivering without the Doctor being able to travel in space? Probably not, but don’t worry, the government have an experimental rocket for him to play with next time, in The Ambassadors of Death.

*I’m not a Dawkenzian atheist myself, but if you don’t believe evolution is the source of all life that we know of, then you don’t understand evolution.
**regardless of the outcome of the Nuremberg trials, this is actually quite a good excuse, as many many studies, like the Milgram and Stanford experiments, demonstrate that following orders is a fundamental part of human nature.

Spearhead From Space

Written by Robert Holmes

Directed by Derek Martinus

If you’ve ever been to the home counties there is a good chance that you’d think that the whole area is a shit hole. And you’d be right. An endless sea of pointless little towns filled with Daily Mail reading, racist, sexist, homophobic, hate filled gobshites. Worse than that, its really fucking dull. Nothing happens there. Ever.

Throughout the sixties though, something had been brewing in the home counties: it was slowly becoming the centre for a new type of horror film. Just about all of the classic Hammer movies were filmed there, while others, such as Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Devil Rides out are even set there.

With the turn of the decade the formerly sleepy county towns and villages would have even more dangers to face. Along with ghouls, vampires and reconstructed, resurrected corpses they would have to face down a seemingly endless parade of alien invasions and mad scientists intent on destroying the planet*.

Doctor Who had changed a great deal over the six or so years it had been on the air by this point, but the huge shift between seasons 6 and 7 was by far the biggest change yet**. A new Doctor, a new companion and a  new producer all arrived at once and even the script editor, Terrance Dicks only really got to take over from his predecessor at this juncture. And on top of that the whole dynamic of the show was set to change: incoming producer/editor team Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were handed a bit of a shit sandwich by their predecessors who had seen it ordained that the show would henceforth be confined to contemporary earth, and have stories of, for the most part, seven episodes. These remarkably awful ideas from the people behind some of the best Who stories were largely meant to keep costs down, but would do so by undermining a large part of what made the show work.

To their immense credit, Letts and Dicks made it work, for at least the first year, and Spearhead From Space is a really high octane (in the context of classic who) opener. Robert Holmes had demonstrated already his ability to write solid scripts on time, but Spearhead is the first hint of the truly awesome stories he had in him.

Perhaps less obvious was the choice of Jon Pertwee as the new Doctor. Much more of a comedian than an actor, most people at the time probably best knew him from the Carry On film series. However, casting Carry Oners as villains had worked in the case of Bernard Bresslaw and Peter Butterworth though, and the great Hartnell himself had been in Carry on Sergeant. As it turns out, it was not a crazy idea at all. Throughout Spearhead he radiates a sort of playful-yet-commanding energy. Pertwee probably isn’t my all time favorite doctor, but I must admit that he’s the first of the classic Doctors that I really got into, and Spearhead is a great introduction to him.

Filling out the companion roles are new arrival Dr Liz Shaw, and the welcome return of the Brig. Liz is not quite Zoe, but she’s not just some bimbo either, being a highly intelligent and qualified scientist in her own right. Caroline John, who plays Dr Shaw believes that she got the role after sending in a shot of herself in a swimsuit, but she does herself a disservice there, as her acting is top notch. As for the Brig, it may seem odd for such an anti-establishment character as the Doctor to be paired up with an army officer, but it sort of works, as the two of them never actually see eye to eye, they just have a begrudging respect for eachother.

But its the villains that really steal the show in spearhead. With them, Holmes had the perfect way to introduce this new Earth based Doctor, and in doing so would scare the living shit out of a generation of children. Previous monsters to invade a recognizable earth had been things like Daleks and Cybermen – not things you’d tend to see around the place on a day to day basis in other words, but Holmes took their menace and attached it to something you see every day: shop window dummies. Its all well and good to find the Daleks terrifying, but try going shopping when a manikin makes you want to dive behind the sofa.

When Who writer Mac Hulke heard that the Doctor would be trapped on contemporary Earth his instant reaction was to point out that the only two stories you could have would be mad scientist and alien invasion. Doctor Who and the Silurians was Dicks’ attempt to disprove that. Will he manage? We’ll find out next time.

*I suppose that if you want a dramatic conflict its best to set an alien invasion in the home counties: the people who live there can’t even get on withe with folks from other countries, never mind other planets. If aliens landed here in Scotland they’d probably be welcomed with a hug and a pint, but down there they’d be stoned to death by an angry mob before they could even leave their saucer.

** still maybe true.

The War Games

Written by Malcolm Hulke & Terrance Dicks

Directed by David Maloney

Yesterday the Egyptian army decided that enough was enough and deposed the country’s president. For the second time in as many years though, they do not have appeared to have done so to seize power for themselves, as one may expect, but because it seems to be what the majority of the country wanted to happen. which raises a number of interesting (to me, at least) questions. Not least, should the military serve the government or the people? The whole point of a democracy, of course, is that the will of the government is the will of the people, but to the best of my knowledge this has never actually been the case, which is why I’m a Kropotkinite, not a democrat. The difficulty there is that without some form of anarcho-syndicalist structure its not really possible to guess the will of the people, so who knows what the fuck most people in Egypt actually want.

Regardless of that, one thing the military is certainly not for is endlessly murdering each other for the shadowy purposes of some sinister alien oligarch, which is precisely what they are used for in arguably the finest Doctor who stories of all time, The War Games. After labeling many early stories as being too long, most of them seem to shrink away to nothing when compared to this ten part epic, but at no point does it ever seem drawn out or overlong. which is surprising, since it was never planned to be more than five parts, but was constantly extended throughout the writing process as other stories were dropped. Indeed, writer Terence Dicks has said a number of times that he only thinks the first and last episodes are any good. He is, of course, wrong: the whole thing is awesome. Its a real credit to both the writers and the cast that even during the seemingly endless parade of loops that make up the middle of the story, it never stops being entertaining.

But if any writers were going to be able to pull off a ten part story with only enough plot for five, it would be Dicks and Hulke. Mac Hulke always made his stories about something more than simply an action romp – this story, for example, is a strong allegory about the futility of war – while Terrance Dicks’ main concern is that the pace of a story never slowed, even for a single scene. The result of the two of them working together is a story that is an action heavy roller coaster* while actually having something to say.

And if any cast were ever going to keep our attention for this long it would be these guys. Troughton is on absolutely top form here, whether facing a farcical court martial or heading up a multi-era resistance group, he always seems to be just about in control, while his companions have some of their finest moments too. Jamie attempting to convince a Mexican bandit that he’s some sort of ferocious war-lord probably stands out as my favorite thing he ever did. The guest cast too are at times magnificent. Philip Madoc, a semi-regular on Holmes’ stories, is fantastic as the sinister War Lord, and Bernard Horsfall makes a very welcome return, this time as one of the prosecuting Time Lords.

But wonderful as this story is, I can’t watch it without a feeling of sadness, as it really marks the end of an era in Doctor Who. Not only does it mark the end of my favorite Doctor, and my favorite TARDIS crew, it also marks the end of the show as it was, about an endless wanderer in space and time, who has no real control of where he and his companions were going to end up next. for the next few years the Doctor would be more or less stuck on 20th century earth, and after that he seemed to learn how to pilot the TARDIS to a degree, so things would never really be the same again. Future script editor, and respected sci-fi write outside of Who, Douglas Adams once said that Doctor Who never recovered from moving into colour, and I’m inclined to agree with him.

Not that things necessarily went downhill right away. Doctor Who’s main strength, the thing that has allowed it to keep running for nigh on 50 years, is that it is endlessly adaptable, and can still tell a great story in any situation. We’ll find out how well it managed to adapt to probably the most drastic changes in its whole history next time, in Spearhead From Space.

*for 60s TV. Don’t expect Die Hard.