A Bold New Direction


Review of The Doctors Revisited - Second Doctor

At the end of February, BBC America viewers were treated to the second installment of the "Doctors Revisited" series. This time, it's all about Patrick Troughton's era.

The format is the same as it was for Hartnell's Doctor, covering first the character of the Doctor himself, then reviewing his Companions and how they influenced the flavor of the show, and finally covering the key "monsters" the Second Doctor had to face.

Interviewees in this installment are primarily the same as before, as well; Moffat, Skinner, Gaiman, Tennant, and Barrowman all make appearances. The change comes in the Companion department, where instead of Ian and Steven, who were exclusively One's Companions, we hear from Wendy Padbury, who played Two's Companion Zoë Heriot.

Fans unfamiliar with Troughton's work as the Doctor might be surprised to hear how much credit these folks give him for turning the show into what we know and love today, but it's quite true. Had he not been able to convince the audience at the time that he really was the Doctor - despite how very different his version of the character's personality is - it would have died then and there. And, as Tennant points out, essentially everyone since has done their own version of Troughton, carefully balancing the Doctor's roles as both man of action and comic relief. That's one of the reasons I personally love him so much; he comes across as a big goof, but he's still sharp, clever, and a little bit scheming underneath.


Retro-View #3: The Games Are Afoot


The War Games (Story #50, 1969)
Viewed 25 Sep, 04 Oct 2012

Doctor/Companion: Two, Jamie, Zoë
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury
Preceding Story: The Space Pirates (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story: Spearhead from Space (Three, Liz Shaw)
Notable Aspects:

  • Two's final story
  • First mention of the Time Lords (by name)
  • First appearance of the Doctor's home planet

It is an utter joy to watch Who with G. She's an ideal audience for indoctrination from the beginning, as she comes into it willingly and with love and appreciation for television of the '60s anyway. You can always count on her to giggle with absolute glee at the poor stage fighting, Two's gurning, or the long-since-outdated science fiction props.

On the other hand, she'll also ask the kinds of questions I imagine the audience at the time would have asked, and is often completely quiet because she's just soaking it all in, getting involved in the plot. Either that, or she's exclaiming about something being revealed on screen, "uh-oh"ing at all the right moments or gushing about the "wonderful" sets. I can just imagine if those responsible for creating this story were on hand to observe her they'd be grinning ear to ear the whole time.

For my part, I had a hard time not interjecting things left and right ("Look! The sonic screwdriver is being used as an actual screwdriver!" "He just said his name was Doctor John Smith!" "He just mentioned the Time Lords for the first time ever!" "It's Philip Madoc! Isn't he brilliant in this role?"). It was worth it, though, to get her unadulterated reactions (e.g., "I like the War Lord. He's kind of cute.").

As they're so charming, allow me to share a few more gems. When we first get to the German HQ in the 1917 zone and the Captain comes in to reinforce the conditioning with his monocle, G exclaimed, "Oh! This guy's only got one! He's half the rank [of Smythe, from the British sector]." She then went on to equate the mind control with the Germans, as I imagine the contemporary viewing audience might have done, despite having had our first hint that something's not right, having encountered the Romans at the end of the previous episode.


Add Crunch to Your Salad


Review of The Krotons (#47)
DVD Release Date: 10 Jul 12
Original Air Date: 28 Dec 1968 - 18 Jan 1969
Doctor/Companion: Two, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoë Heriot
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury
Preceding Story: The Invasion (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story: The Seeds of Death (Two, Jamie, Zoë)

It's amazing how different a Doctor Who story looks when comparing the picture in your head whilst reading a synopsis to the picture on the screen as broadcast. The Krotons certainly looks nothing like I envisioned it, but I don't think that's altogether bad.

When I first read that synopsis, I was also unfamiliar with several parts of the Whovian mythos that make them items of interest here. First, I really didn't know beans about Robert Holmes. The Krotons is Holmes' first stint as a writer for Who, but certainly not his last. He penned more than a dozen stories before he was done, was script editor for a goodly chunk of the show's "heyday" (depending on which fan you ask about the definition of heyday), and introduced a vast number of important characters and concepts to the Whoniverse. In retrospect, then, it's interesting to see how he makes his start.

Similarly, Krotons is the first story in which eventually-iconic Who villain Philip Madoc made an appearance. Madoc (who passed away this past March) is perhaps best known for his role as Solon in The Brain of Morbius, but his Eelek here is just as oily and commanding. He is perhaps the strongest of a fair-to-middlin' batch of supporting cast here (though the Vana character is utterly useless, and in my opinion not well portrayed).

From the beginning, Holmes provides a suitably creepy ambience, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" or similar dystopian tales. The mysterious metal overlords of the realm are also nicely ominous, especially before we actually see them (those wacky, spinny, perfume-bottle heads of theirs are certainly... iconic, shall we say).


Sssuccesssful Ssstory


Review of The Seeds of Death: SE (#48)
DVD Release Date: 12 Jun 12
Original Air Date: 25 Jan - 01 Mar 1969
Doctor/Companion: Two, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoë Heriot
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury
Preceding Story: The Krotons (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story: The Space Pirates (Two, Jamie, Zoë)

Although it is the franchise's second encounter with them, Seeds of Death is our first real chance to see the Ice Warriors in action, since two episodes of The Ice Warriors are no longer extant. It's a great intro, too, because the POV shots give it an interesting sense of mystery at the beginning - "who has invaded Moonbase?", the (original) audience is left to wonder. And we don't find out until the end of Episode 1, which works quite well.

They're suitably creepy and threatening, too. What are they up to? Their plan appears so complex, and has so many pieces, that it takes even the Doctor five or six episodes to suss it out completely. And I just love their weaponry. It's unique and interesting, especially for 1969. I can't help but wonder how that would (or "will," if rumor can be trusted) be adapted today. OK, so some of the effects are dodgy (in what story weren't they, really?) - those rubber suits are just unwieldy, and the "fungal spores" are absolutely laughable (though at least imaginative) - but the overall timbre is nice.

I also really like the timely commentary on the space age. Humanity has become too dependent on one particular technology (T-Mat), and needs to go back to a more "primitive" technology (rocketry) to get itself out of a pickle. It's totally a cautionary tale.


Retro-View #2: Change-Up


The Romans (Story #12, 1965)
The War Games (Story #50, 1969)
Viewed 28 May 2012

Doctor/Companion:   One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki / Two, Jamie, Zoë
Stars:  William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O'Brien /
   Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury
Preceding Story:  The Rescue (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki) /
   The Space Pirates (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
Succeeding Story:  The Web Planet (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki) /
   Spearhead from Space (Three, Liz Shaw)
Notable Aspects:

  • Two's final story

So far, G and I seem to be averaging about 3 episodes a session. That could make things "interesting" in the long term. For now, though, it just means we finished The Romans and barely scratched the surface of The War Games (the story that got the most votes in the what-should-we-watch poll). We also tossed in the surviving footage of the first regeneration (and the resolution of the Episode 1 cliffhanger - G's not one for too much suspense) for good measure.

After a brief recap from last time, we jumped right back into the middle of The Romans. Right off the bat, we get Nero's first sight of Barbara. G's immediate reaction: "You old letch!" She proceeds to giggle at Nero's antics, chuckle at our heroes' repeated near misses, and chortle at the (very bad) stage fighting between a pair of gladiators. She's thoroughly enjoying herself, and I'm enjoying that. Then she proceeds to put her finger on one reason I like this story so much: "every cliché possible is in this thing!"

Another thing I find so refreshing about watching with G is that she seems to adore the things that put off some folks, like the '60s production values. When she notes that "their set must've been about 10x10" during Ian's gladiator fight, it's said with glee and amusement rather than a roll of the eyes. Her bursts of "this is great!" are not infrequent, and give me that warm, fuzzy we've-hooked-another-one! feeling.



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