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Sheer poetry, dear boy.

Worst to Best

Doctor Who
Season 2 – Worst to Best


Simultaneously ambitious and undisciplined – although much of the latter is down to one particular recurring director – Season 2 might reasonably be called out for not being all that. On the upside, the arrival of Dennis Spooner as script editor, replacing David Whitaker, can make for something of a comedically inclined precursor to the unfairly maligned Graham Williams era. There’s a playful, meta-quality running through the season from The Romans onwards, and its only really when Whitaker is back (The Crusade) that something of Season 1’s sobriety returns. You could add The Web Planet to that, although it’s anomaly by any standards (and could probably have done with a few more intentional laughs).

Definitely, though, three times the Richard Martin – in all cases, assigned to direct the “blockbuster” stories – takes its toll. The effect is of a noticeably diminishing-returns nature too, as whatever bright ideas he might have for visualisation, the realisation reaches a nadir with his final contribution to the show. We’re fortunate, then, that there’s also the first sight of super-competent Douglas Camfield to foster some balance. 

This is also producer Verity Lambert’s last full stint and sees the departure of all three original companions. Which means that, by the end of the season, a refocussing of the show is complete, from an ensemble to one very much revolving around the title character. Season 2 may be the Hartnell run where there’s perhaps too little striving for something special in terms of stories or productions – and when there is, the results can be a bit of a bodge – but it occasionally hints at the Lambert/Spooner team’s potential.


The Web Planet

Not one on my most rewatched list, I smeared myself all over Vortis again with The Web Planet’s deficiencies foremost in my mind, not least its snail pace. While moderately engaging for the first couple of episodes, Bill Strutton’s story becomes interminable around about the point when Ian meets up with the Optera. 

As with The Romans, action-man Ian is allotted the least-interesting plotline, one that, per director Richard Martin – never shy of blowing his own trumpet, even if that trumpet turns out to be hot air – he and Spooner came up with for filler. If so, it shows. And Martin’s actual paid work? He gets all the knocks as the Peter Moffatt or Ron Jones of his day, which have to be acknowledged as entirely fair when it comes to The Chase. However, his Vaseline decision aside, his work here often isn’t that terrible. It’s more that he isn’t nearly adept enough to make the story’s unwieldly logistics workable.

Because, on paper, The Web Planet is a complete trip. Watching it, though, is often excruciatingly close to amateur theatre. Someone with a truly imaginative eye – so quite likely not someone working in TV – might have made this every bit as odd as it deserved. Elements of which nevertheless manage to peek through. Barbara with her Bruce Campbell possessed arm. Much of the first episode comprises what the series does supremely well at this stage; the contained unit of the TARDIS crew explore a strange new world. The Animus sounds like Fenella Fielding on disco biscuits, and one wonders if a direct link can be traced between The Web Planet and Dougal and the Blue Cat (is Buxton instructed by the Animus?) Every time the Doctor speaks to it via the hairdryer, the effect is iconic. Similarly, the staging of webbed Billy and Vicki at the Invasion cliffhanger is quite startling. Finale The Centre, focusing as it does on the Animus’ lair, is superior to at least the preceding two or three parts, much of it down to Catherine Fleming’s insistent voicework. And much less so Ian finally breaking surface through a couple of drapes.

The storytelling approach, leaving aside that the execution conjures Ed Wood at his “best”, is often acutely bizarre, from the scientific exploration of the planet, aided by ADJs (atmospheric density jackets), onwards. Vortis is teeming with strange, half-baked life (acid pools, butterfly men and women, giant ants that are decidedly less authentic than John Wood’s sketches, super-speedy lava guns). The description “It is a dim, half world” almost forgives a painted backdrop and a couple of sandbags. Much has been made of the “cancer eating away the healthy planet” analogy (the Carsinome “grew like a fungus”), but there’s more besides. This is Doctor Who dealing with possession for the first time – if you leave aside Susan trying to cut off Ian’s privates with a pair of scissors in The Edge of Destruction – in a story where even the travels of the TARDIS are lent an offbeat, uncanny vibe (“We have strayed from our astral plane” is not the stuff of a NASA-sponsored universe, any more than butterflies travelling unaided through the vacuum of space). 

The Zarbi have been “made militant by the Dark Power”. And that power is “An alien from the darkness of space… thinking itself into the crannies of Vortis…”. It inspires legends in those that fear it – “Pwodorauk sucks goodness from our world” sound like something out of Frank Herbert – but for good reason. Vicki, who quite rightly has a dim view of twentieth-century medicine, is forthright in her characterisation (“Leave us alone, you parasite! Filthy great spider!”). It’s one that draws comparison with The Great Intelligence, or the formless invasiveness of the Nestene Consciousness (per About Time, they’re identified as a collective in the N/As, The Great Old Ones, the kind of “imaginative” Lovecraftian riff you’d expect from continuity-driven fanfic).

The Animus suggests the prevailing mind of darkness, the inimical influence of the organic AI, one that renders those it controls hive-mind zombies (hence Zombo, Vicki’s pet Zarbi; he’d have been great as a companion, waddling around Jerusalem). “What Vortis is, I am” avers the Animus, impressing upon us her pervasive, consuming predation (Spooner thought it was about commies, which also fits). By implication, it grows from small kernels (“We must not allow forest to conceal another lurking Animus”), like the darkness in anyone’s mind (or body, but then, they reflect each other).

I’m none too sure the Doctor gets away with having dished the Animus the dirt, spilling beans on where to find the Menoptera invasion force, but they seem very grateful to him all the same. As is often the case, Barbara is the story’s best catered for regular, although you can feel the strain of her being forced to switch hats as battle strategist in The Centre (lucky the Doctor’s there to nod vigorously). “My ship! My TARDIS” is a trick pulled again in Full Circle. The Optera sticking its head in some lava is the kind of grimness that would send Eric Saward into raptures, so it’s as well its visceral qualities are fall foul of ineptitude. Curiously, the Animus wants to “take from man his mastery of space”. So I’m guessing the story isn’t set in 1965, unless we’re talking Die Glocke.

Stephen James Walker defended the story in DWM’s The Complete First Doctor, understandably bruised by its damning reappraisal post-video availability (notably, the first few DWB polls had it comfortably nestled in the Top 30 stories). Let’s face it, most do see The Web Planet as “a shoddily-made story featuring a bunch of extras prancing around in silly insect costumes” because it’s exactly that. I’m genuinely happy some can get past its realisation, because conceptually it deserves it (as The Discontinuity Guide said, “You’ve got to appreciate the lofty ambitions”) Certainly, About Time’s venomous (grub) demolition of everything about it leads one to proffer additional sympathy.

Lisbeth Sandifer, naturally, went against the grain, labelling itamong the most misunderstood episodes of Doctor Who ever” and denied all red-menace suggestions, so going against the grain of her yen to read political subtext into every given story (“the biggest mistake that you can make about this story – and, maddeningly, the mistake that people most often make in discussing the story – is to treat it as a realist piece of science fiction that’s a direct parable about the world of 1965”). Wait, there’s more: “Everybody who complains about the unrealistic effects in this episode is being a complete idiot” (you know, the same way everybody who loves Talons of Weng-Chiang is an unreconstituted racist). She also suggests, rather disingenuously, that no one else has drawn attention to the similarities to Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, ignoring that Wood and Miles drew attention to the then very recent and obviously referenced First Man in the Moon (as in, I wonder where Méliès got his inspiration?)

As I suggested in the introduction, there’s a somewhat sloppy quality to Season 2. While little is desperately bad, there are also only a couple of instances where it feels sufficiently inspired in all departments. That may partly be down to Spooner, leavening a cheerful ambivalence amid the gags (I do like his take, though), or it may be Martin being handed all the prize exhibits and making, at most, a bearable fist of them. If Michael Ferguson had got the call this year, rather than the next, perhaps The Web Planet’s exotica would be as celebrated today as the psychedelic interior of Axos.

The Chase

I was lenient on The Chase on the occasion of our last encounter, on the basis that its episodic nature yielded as many ups as it did downs, but I’m afraid The Richard Martin Effect has worn me down this time. I do rather like the inappropriate jazz-doodle score, the really dopey Dalek, Steven returning to rescue teddy bear HiFi while he should be ensuring a blindfolded Vicki is lowered 1,500 feet to the ground from the Mechanoid City, the bafflingly incongruous Odo Doctor (Edmund Warwick), Vicki’s Mechanoid impression, Ian’s Dalek impression and the giant, wobbly, randy, anything-eating mushrooms, but none of this hangs together in a remotely dramatic or compelling way. They probably should have given Camfield this one and Martin something where he could do less damage (any historical, basically).

Of course, Martin cheerfully fesses up to the story’s limitations, its failings seemingly water off a duck’s back (he also explains how he and Dennis Spooner knocked it together on the fly after Terry Nation only delivered an outline. I expect Martin pretty-much produced the show while he was at it). Yet again, the opening, crew-focussed section is probably the most rewarding part of the story (see above), and as dopey as the idea is, the Time-Space Visualiser sketches are quite good fun: Shakespeare being given the idea for Hamlet; Vicki calling The Beatles “classical music”. There’s abundant eccentricity, even once they’ve landed on Aridius, including gags that worked in The Romans but don’t here (the Doctor misunderstanding Babs’ complaint about noise as referring to his singing: “I could charm the nightingales out of the trees”). The incredible weirdness of him sunbathing (he does have a beach costume, of course, per The Space Museum).  The shittiest “Dalek appears shock!” cliffhanger ever (a model Dalek emerges spluttering from the sand). 

The Death of Time is plain bad, though, with the Daleks rolling around the planet like Stormtroopers on Tatooine, a bouncy-castle mire beast (the ultimatum given the Aridians to turn over the crew is a stirring of drama, but only faintly so), Babs losing her cardigan (“Oh no, not again”) and the Doctor muttering about a jumble sale. Flight Through Eternity is frightful, treating us to Purves’ American accent atop the Empire State Building (Vicki’s very up on her history: “Ancient New York was destroyed in the Dalek invasion”). The “often erroneously referred to asMarie Celeste sequence isn’t much better, with Vicki comedy-boshing an already tottering Ian on the head, a woman and baby(!) jumping overboard to flee the Daleks, and a dizzy one getting dunked too. 

Journey into Terror is notable for Universal failing to sue over Frankenstein iconography (the neck bolt and the haircut), and also for the crazy “Un-shriven!” robot witch just asking for Frankie Howerd to pop into the Festival of Ghana and respond “Shut yer face”. And most of all, for the Doctor’s persistent view that “I am convinced that that house was neither time nor space. We were lodged for a period in an area of human thought”. As alt-reality ideas go, this is a good ’un: that they’re in a “world of dreams”, one conjured by “millions of minds”. So much so, it deserved its own story, one to rank up there with The Mind Robber and, er, The Celestial Toymaker. The Doctor’s essentially suggesting any paradigm might be the stuff of its inhabitants’ thoughts, minds-first co-creators as part of Source itself. More than that, per The Seth Material, any other layer of reality, be it a probable one or astral (dream), is as convincing to those in it as the predominant 3D one.

Which may be why the mundanity of 1996 robots doesn’t pass muster. The final two episodes ought to have been the highlight, what with their patented Nation jungles and deserted (but not) cities, along with the Doctor in an altercation with himself. Aside from a (shot-on-film) fight between Daleks and Mechanoids and that climb down the cable, it’s a bit of a stiff, though. And the entirely charming epilogue is also honourably excused, of course, documenting Ian and Babs’ departure; they arrive home, blow up the Dalek time machine (hopefully there was no one in the warehouse) and deliver a pigeon-strewn montage of London sights before hopping on a bus. Silly old fuss pots. Fortunately, we have all those Adventures in HiFi still to look forward to.

Planet of Giants

Planet of Giants losing an episode was clearly all upsides; not only did we get to avoid seeing Sammy the cat horrifically succumbing to poison, but it means we’re also able to witness Sir Ian showing us how it should be done with his glorious recon. Planet of Giants is, in its favour, charmingly modest (as the sideways stories, perhaps surprisingly, tended to be), a story of limited means that even the regulars noted was “very talky”, during a period the show was already well-versed in the same.

A holdover from the first-season shooting block, this is very much the case of the scientist warning of science unchecked (The Dead Planet), drawing attention to the supposed benefits of advances in pest control (About Time highlights the use of DDT post-war), and also the dubiety of the utilitarian principle (Smithers is presented as genuine in intent, but horrifyingly flawed in justification. He’s willing to overlook Forrester killing Farrow because “I’ve seen more death than you could imagine. People dying of starvation all over the world. What do you think I started on research for?”) 

While it’s a tad unfathomable that Smithers didn’t cotton on to quite how potent his formula is, he’s initially vexed because Farrow was checking “every minor detail”. You know, the sort of thing Monsanto would complain about. Of course, pesticides proving dangerously toxic is a prerequisite to their sale, the only limitation being how immediately and intrusively this aspect percolates through the system. Indeed, Big Pharma is essentially split into two here, so the capitalist (Forrester) will do anything he can, at all costs, while the research scientist is allowed a modicum of honest purpose and principle; in due course, he admonishes “DN6 is more deadly than radiation! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” So he’s ultimately willing to recognise he’s wrong, and there is a line he won’t cross.

Greta and her handlers would be proud of the eco-cred on display here, and its notable that the first sign of something wrong is the death of a bee (their sensitivity to humanity messing with the environment needing no introduction). Smithers’ “Think what would happen with locusts!” invokes the spectre of factory-farming methods, the reason we’re in all this mess. If the villains’ motivation is fairly delineated, others are murkier. It’s unclear how it is that Hilda recognises Farrow’s voice, unless he’s a regular in those parts. It’s also unclear why Babs inspires an episodes-spanning drama through concealing her exposure to DN6; quite apart from anything, Ian’s thickness and her thick-headedness become increasingly irksome as the subplot continues.

The effects are often quite impressive; the live fly is really very good, the briefcase too (if conspicuously immobile). The (il)logic of miniaturisation is only highlighted when it suits the plot; so Babs’ salvation is returning to normal size, but nothing is made of the possibilities of drinking water with larger molecules, breathing air etc. This is Miniscules rather than Micronauts, though, in the tradition that precedes Land of Giants, I Dream of Jeannie’s giant cat’s paw (“One swipe of its paw would smash us to pieces!”) and The AvengersMission: Highly Improbable, rather than the microscopic likes of Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace and The Invisible Enemy.

On the references front, we have the Doctor invoking the “life force”, suggestive of a quasi-metaphysical approach (or Whitaker-ian) to science. There’s mention of zeppelins (“infernal machines”) and the World’s Fair, both big popular subjects for Stolen History. I recall it mooted Planet of Giants might be set in the late-50s, which just seems bafflingly irrational. DWM’s TARDIS Log had it in 1962, The Discontinuity Guide a noncommittal post-WWII, and About Timeclearly sometime in the 1960s”. It seems to make sense that it’s the present day, with just the size gone awry, similarly to the next story being exactly right, but a hundred years late. Some fans seem to need to complicate things.

The Space Museum

I’m with Rob Shearman on this; there’s much to enjoy in The Space Museum. True, you need to be able to see past the disposable supporting characters, who make your standard-issue, paper-thin ones seem well conceived, but this is my second visit to Xeros in a couple of years, and I was pleasantly surprised by how agreeably it goes down. It’s only really during the final instalment (The Final Phase, appropriately) that the rebels vs oppressive empire becomes intrusively perfunctory.

That’s mostly because there’s a string of side distractions running through Glyn Jones’ script, many of them quite possibly embellished by Dennis Spooner. The titular first episode goes great guns and is probably the most engrossing of the season outside of The Wheel of Fortune. It’s another one of the dependable “crew explore” set ups; the main quartet are peerless, of course, and there’s genuine weirdness that needs accounting for. Mervyn Pinfield gives us – or is he just picking up from Douggie? – the classic frozen crew opening, and there’s much amusement to be garnered from the Doctor brushing off his companions’ concerns over how they suddenly changed outfits and Vicki’s glass came back together… until we realise he was taking note after all.  

They aren’t leaving footprints on the surface of the dead world (“like the dark side of the Moon”) and are intruded upon by “the sort of silence you can almost hear”. And that’s before realising none of the inhabitants are noticing them, even when Vicki sneezes. It’s a little alarming that the Doctor has “never been able to solve the fourth dimension” since he spends so much time in it (that is, as it’s defined within the show), but interesting that those “stranded” in 4D aren’t visible to those in standard 3D. 

If the sight of the quartet on display – are they stuffed or in stasis? – ought really to have been the cliffhanger, the story sustains itself nicely into The Dimensions of Time. The dull bureaucrat oppressor Moroks seem to be anticipating Douglas Adams (Richard Shaw’s Lobos is so world-weary and don’t-give-a-toss that their eventual defeat seems inevitable). The Doctor has a whale of a time, first being grabbed and then overpowering one of the feckless young Xeron rebels – he’s incredibly handy, is Hartnell’s Doctor – and then doing a classic Dalek impression (“I fooled them all. I am the master!”) Ian, anticipating Faithless, attempts to tear through Babs’ cardigan with his teeth, teeth, teeth. But the trio’s attempts to find a way out are otherwise much less engrossing than the Doctor’s interrogation, in which he runs rings round Lobos (“How did you get here”, he is asked, and the thought-selection machine shows a Penny Farthing. He subsequently alludes that he is an amphibian, with a visual of him in a bathing costume, and also some walruses).

Billy’s out of the running for most or The Search, but Vicki more than takes up the slack. Indeed, this might be the best Vicki story. She’s bright as a button in The Space Museum (the first episode, that is), with her insight into the fourth dimension, so when she falls in with the future Boba Fett and his alarmingly eyebrowed gang, it’s only right that she should start calling the shots, a regular little Castro. Anticipating the Kobyashi Maru (The Wrath of Khan rather than ’09), she reprograms the armoury computer to gain access (it’s basically a lie detector) and shows the kind of acumen that suggests she could confidently travel the universe solo.

It’s Babs who gets the short straw, mostly down to an extraordinarily ineffective paralysing gas unleashed on her and Dako; the Moroks begin releasing it in The Search, and their victims are still coughing and spluttering and failing to paralyse ten minutes into The Final Phase. Fortunately, the Doctor’s back in action by this point, coming through being plunged to 100 degrees below freezing with only a spot of rheumatism. What’s more, he was still functioning throughout, his “brain was working with the speed of a mechanical computer”. 

Not that he’s really needed to wrap things up, as Vicki’s sorted everything very nicely; the Xenons arrive to overthrow the Moroks in the nick of time. Hurrah! The Doctor does “explain” the first episode’s anomaly, which leaves Ian rightly bemused, since he’s talking a load of old nonsense about flicking a switch wrong. You half wonder if Vicki should have stayed on Xenos and kicked Bulloch in them, rather than fleeing Troy, but she probably didn’t fancy insisting he pluck his eyebrows every morning. I wouldn’t go as far as making a case for the neglected status of The Space Museum, but for a regularly cited fag end of the show, it’s a surprisingly robust little entertainment.

 The Rescue

The functional nature of The Rescue rather encourages it being somewhat underrated. It isn’t doing anything particularly ambitious or remarkable, stretching any narrative or thematic boundaries, but it’s a well-performed and well-crafted little vignette on dependency and dictated paradigms. The boundaries of Vicki’s world are set by a benefactor/monster who has systematically deceived her about the fundamentals. The Discontinuity Guide called it “too inconsequential to sustain any real interest”, but it probably holds together better than any other two-parters until Season 23’s finale (many would obviously debate any merits whatsoever in that one).

There’s more Earth future here, but setting the story five hundred years hence, complete with your bog-standard ’50s versions of spaceships, isn’t the most evocative (see also The Sensorites). And yet, it very much allies The Rescue with a certain brand of spacefaring science fiction, of out-among-the-stars colonisers/explorers prone to intruding upon and messing things up for the natives. Which they do (Sandifer suggests the focus on Vicki suggests a vital and progressive non-Empire Britain in space, but that’s rose-tinted of her). It’s oft noted that the Didoans aren’t up to much, envisaged with the kind of care that makes The Space Museum look plush; were it not for the Doctor’s “been here before” backstory, it might have been an idea to make them some kind of higher-dimensional entities who simply removed themselves from direct interaction when Bennett went on his rampage. As it is, they’re less than vanilla and represent Chris Barry’s one major stumble in realising the story. 

Otherwise, there are a several almost meta- devices: a crap monster who turns out to be a guy dressed in ceremonial gear; a ravenous beastie who actually looks quite sweet/dopey because it is quite sweet/dopey. The temple (People’s Hall of Judgement) set in Desperate Measures is simple but very impressive, on account of some highly atmospheric lighting and staging. 

Whitaker wastes no time in moving from a story with a separate monster and injured earthman to the Doctor deducing they’re one and the same; Paul Cornell debated whether it was the intent to have it seem like a mystery in The Complete First Doctor, and I’m doubtful it was. This was simply another new world to explore, and sure, Bennett (Ray Barrett) is a grumpy downer of an old sod, but his motives are only writ large if you go in with prior knowledge (as About Time argues, this isn’t a crap whodunit, because it isn’t a whodunit). However, even given Vicki was feverish for days, her obliviousness to his killing a crew member on board and then everyone else on planet is a bit rich. Was she in stasis? Had she her fingers over her eyes and ears?

O’Brien makes a winning debut: full of energy, life, emotion and warmth… well, not so much warmth when she’s pissed off and wishes the TARDIS crew had never come. You’re entirely on her side when gun-crazy Barbara kills her friend Sandy (Babs, to be fair, has reason to be on edge, having been thrown off a cliff in the first five minutes). Ian doesn’t have much to do, so Russell only has some Temple of Doom traps to navigate and his famous “cocky-lickin” adlib to write home about. Hartnell is just great. Possibly, his ability to persuade Vicki of others point of view re Sandy is on the perfunctory side (“I’m the Doctor, so I know best”), but his battering down Bennett’s door and the subsequent unmasking scene make for great grandstanding; he’s also intent on either shooting Bennett with the construction tool ray or (more likely, since we’re a whole season past skull crushing) placing him under close arrest. And his gentle suggestion that Vicki comes with them, and her awe at the TARDIS interior, creates a magic all its own. His needing a restorative sleep is interesting, particularly as he says he’s going back into the TARDIS for one but doesn’t.

There ought to be limited cause for relief with the final rationale that the rescue ship won’t land because communications have been severed (if anything, it will just make them more determined: look what happened on Pandora). It seems to be based on needing precise navigational signal, but I have little doubt the glorious British Space Empire will land and eradicate the remaining Didoans.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

One for apologias, it seems. As in, if you forgive it its surface sins, and its plot sins, and its crap Daleks, crap effects, and… well, it’s really quite good. This is NOT a story where the weight of expectation serves, as anyone who first saw it on the initial BBC video release (or in Nick Briggs’ case, at Longleat 1983) will attest. Particularly if they’d read the gritty Uncle Terrance adaptation, with its gritty Genesis of the Daleks-esque roboman Achilleos cover, first (All together now: “Through the ruins of a city stalked the ruins of a man”). About Time was especially merciless – “Miraculously, this story manages to look like an even shoddier version of an American flying saucer B-picture, performed as a school play” – but you have to look with better eyes than that.

There was also the movie version, on rotation, it seemed, during the ’80s while the BBC largely refrained from giving us the goods (repeats of actual episodes). That may have had a lavish budget on its side, but for all its lapses in realisation, there’s a level of desolate grimness to The Dalek Invasion of Earth’s establishing milieu that informs much of what follows. It’s easy to be critical of Richard Martin, but this is probably his most consistent work for the show, and the location footage is vital in announcing its scope and post-WWII/post-Dalek invasion milieu. As About Time put it, “it’s recognisably our world after something terrible” (not so far from Day of the Triffids and 28 Days Later, also one for early hours city shooting) and “there’s a scope and sweep here which we won’t see again for a long while”.

That justifies swathes of slacker Robomen (their brainpower would give Ogrons a run for their money), particularly when they drown themselves to escape the hideousness of it all; the stark, conspicuous reminder sign the crew fail to notice for most of the first episode almost single-handedly furnishes its tension (Sandifer forwarded a meritless complaint that could be lodged at any returning monster/villain story, as its virtues are all as a place-setting character piece: “the 22.5 minutes prior to that scene are horrifically dragged out attempts to hold off starting the story”). Indeed, Nation will later be at his most Sawardian when Phil finally reunites with his brother Larry… who is now a Roboman. They die together, one taking the other’s life.

It’s true this is a very-60s 22nd century, and its echoes of the most recent global conflict, with its resistance movement, collaborators, bombed London and (metal) Nazis calling for surrender, Lord Haw-Haw style, aren’t subtle, but they undoubtedly engender a distinctive atmosphere and lingering conviction. 

Which is as well, as the Daleks are, obviously, a bit shit. Not so much their voices (everyone complains about this part) or the Black Dalek’s pet Slyther (who is, let’s be honest, no worse than you average plastic-bag Krynoid), or their dimness (the one accusing a shop window dummy of being “subcultural”; falling for Bab’s terrible scheme), inability to hit a whacking great bus driving at them (thank heavens for Dalek saucers) and ripeness for ridicule (“Obey motorised dustbins?”) Or even their squatting there like lemons when the Doctor gives them a jolly good smacked bottom, verbally at least, at the start of The Daleks (episode 2). And they actually sound like they deserve some strategic credit for their invasion plan, first bombarding the Earth with “meteorites”, then dropping “germ bombs” from the sky and wiping out three continents with plague.

No, it’s their grand scheme, their reason for being on Earth, rightly celebrated as one of the daffiest in Doctor Who, where they come a real cropper. About Time laid the charge that it was “a story that makes less sense with each passing moment, daft plot-twists… and mistimed direction”, but it’s only really when you find out what they’re up to that you seriously question if Terry was taking the piss. 

Perhaps the Daleks will implement Project Regravitate (part of their new power system) immediately after eliminating the Earth’s gravitational and magnetic forces and so avert the worst consequences of “tampering with the forces of creation” and upsetting “the entire constellation”. Of course, one might aver that removing the magnetic core and piloting the Earth through space is no more absurd than the crediting notion that it is round and hurtling through a void in the first place, so fair dues to the Daleks (About Time loftily scoffs at crazy ideas like the Vril hollow Earth and convex Earth, on the basis that official science makes any sense. Along these lines, there are also Moon stations in the 22nd century, so it turns out it isn’t a plasma projection at all). 

Obviously, the Daleks decide that man is not “just a work machine. An insignificant specimen that is not worth invading” somewhere between now and Day of the Daleks (assuming the Doctor is right in his assessment of this, it being “about the middle history of the Daleks” and Skaro being “millions of years ahead of us in the future”. These don’t seem unreasonable, on the basis of their having time travel). Daleks are Nazis of course, but eco ones (so Greta in a nutshell). They’ll get rid of the nasty human pests and “Clean up the planet” (okay, extracting its core isn’t hugely enviro-friendly, on the face of it, and there won’t be any gravity, it seems, but no plan is perfect…)

Unsurprisingly, all the supporting characters are stock types, but the guest cast (particularly Bernard Kay and Alan Judd) lend them lustre. About Time holds that Peter Fraser is terrible, which I can’t see. He’s fine, and utterly plausible when called upon to woo Susan with a dead fish. Hartnell’s on towering form, entirely undaunted by facing the Daleks and having fun having at Robomen (but not taking their lives), solving Dalek puzzles, and noting the courtship going on (“Quite, I can see something’s cooking”). His final scene with Susan is rather lovely (his acting is not, as Sandifer suggests, shit there). Even the Behind the Sofa confederacy of wokesters had to admit as much, in spite of her submissive role. 

On which subject, Babs is in full Jim Cameron heroine flow in this one, smashing through Dalek roadblocks and making them dizzy with her report of a resistance plan that borrows heavily from her history lessons. Ian’s entirely dependable, and I love The Waking Ally cliffhanger, where he just happens to hide in the worst place imaginable (lucky that he’s good at defusing bombs – or Daleks are crap at making them).

Sandifer submits that this is where the Doctor becomes a “fetish object”, since characters overtly mythologise his status (Tyler can’t get enough of him, Susan harps on about how genius he is), something she thinks is a good thing, in contrast to About Time’s Mad Larry; I agree with Larry by and large on this, albeit in terms of expressly mythologising via dialogue and hero themes, the formula for nu-Who. Apart from anything else, it gets very tedious. Here, though, to the extent that the claim is legitimate, it’s innocuous and rather funny, mostly due to the compare and contrast of what is said and what we see. 

The Dalek Invasion of Earth is the traditional pick of the season; it’s the showpiece, Radio Times cover story that gives the public what they want, and it duly gave the show its second-wind ratings boost. It is, obviously, a grab bag of Terry Nation tropes and resolutely familiar plotting and characterisation. But it’s also more than the sum of its parts, not just in iconography, but in terms of the all-important regulars. What Nation does very well is pair them off and keep their plots running along engagingly. If you look at the polls, this season’s stories aren’t of the most prolific nature, but the line-up (even more so with Vicki) is up there with the very best. Susan could be a complete pain when she was being poorly catered for (she still gets a twisted ankle here, but she also talks back – “I eat” – and knows her grandfather’s foibles in an adult-to-aged-child way), but this story redresses the balance somewhat, and makes it genuinely sad to see her go.

The Crusade

Possibly the discerning fan’s pick of the season. It’s difficult to assess fairly with half of it lost – no crappy animation to fill the gap on this one, fortunately, since their quality has nose-dived since The Power of the Daleks, alas – but while I’d lean in the direction of it not being quite all that, The Wheel of Fortune has a strong case for being the best episode of the entire 42. This is Doctor Who done with faux-Shakespearian care towards character and dialogue (blank verse now would be too much effort. Besides, it isn’t “real”, like what “actual” people speak), so absolutely the antithesis of anything you’d find in nu-Who. The Crusade admits some of the less commendable tendencies of the era, most notably that Ian gets the dodo action plotline (leading to his being fed to the ants). Barbara’s role is a bit deficient this time out (after she “escapes”, she’s essentially a damsel in distress), but the Doctor material is absolute dynamite, and the performances of Julian Glover, Jean Marsh and Bernard Kay are rightly feted. 

The Doctor: May I ask, why, of all people here, you’ve come to me, hmm?
Joanna: There’s something new in you, yet something older than the sky itself. I sense that I can trust you. 

Of the Doctor, Joanna’s description is probably the best there’s ever been, lyrically laudatory and delivered by Marsh with appropriately perceptive sincerity (see the preceding story in this ranking for thoughts on where such veneration can fall down). It comes in an episode that’s a particular Marsh showcase; Joanna lets her brother Richard know what she thinks of his plan to marry her off to an Arab (“This unconsulted partner has no wish to marry. I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange”). Well, to Roger Avon playing one anyway (About Time’s observation that, to a modern sensibility, the story may seem “creaky, racist and misogynistic” is really to suggest a modern sensibility has no perception of nuance, so may be true. Certainly, Wood, Miles, Sandifer et al are prone to trot out the “Hartnell has no scenes persons of (actual) colour” line, endorsing in advance Moffat making his Doctor a racist old homophobe. More noteworthy is the suggestion it was Bill who pressed for lessening of incestuous undertones in the Richard/Joanna relationship; Wiki contrastingly has it that Glover and Marsh’s performance intimate choices were picked up on by Lambert). 

While it’s no deal breaker to an engrossing story, Miles and Wood have a point when they suggest “The crusades seem like the perfect environment for the series, until you have to ask yourself what the regular characters are supposed to do there. And the truth is, David Whittaker has no idea”, before wading into The Crusade’s structural deficiencies. None of which prevents the Doctor occupying a striking positioning in the piece, first as confidante of Joanna and then as an affront to Richard. As he warns Vicki, worried lest he may be thinking of leaving her in the lurch, “No, my reservation was that I might get entangled in court intrigue, and that’s going to be very, very dangerous. Very dangerous indeed”. Which is exactly what happens, when Leicester (John Bay, making about as convincing a blood-stained warrior as, say, Joshua Jackson would be) squeals the deal to Joanna and the Doctor gets blamed by Richard.

The Doctor: You stupid butcher! Can you think of nothing else but killing, hmm?

He also gets to call Leicester out in a scene striking for the Doctor’s strident indignation; it’s Hartnell holding the title-role ground in spite of more skilled thesps invading his space. Elsewhere, the Doctor enthusiastically gets stuck in when the Arabs attack (he always seems that bit more violent in historical settings: “That Saracen very nearly did for me”) and enjoys nicking some costumes. Quite why the TARDIS wardrobe wouldn’t suffice, well, then we wouldn’t get his exchange in The Knight of Jaffa:

Chamberlain: You see this riding habit? It was taken from this very room. Now it is back here again.
The Doctor: And a pretty poor garment, too.
Chamberlain: This and this, stolen from me.
Daheer: And stolen from me.
The Doctor: Yes, now there really is a point there, isn’t there? If I stole from you, my lord Chamberlain, how could I steal from him?
Daheer: You did. You did steal from me.
The Doctor: Then how could I steal from him, eh, you blockhead? 

Blockhead, indeed! The Doctor’s averring, of course, that “History must take its course”, and willing to opt out of any involvement in anything approaching a climax in The Warlords, which makes for a curious fourth instalment. You don’t really feel short-changed, but you are left with the sense this was no more than an exercise in extracting themselves from events, rather than getting to grips with them. The episode still has Ian tied up from the cliffhanger ten minutes in, with only the magnificent Tutte Lemkow to stave off listlessness. Babs has no fun at all, attempting to evade fiendish El Akir (Walter Randall sporting a villainous facial scar), which includes a spell in a harem. Vicki dresses as a boy, which may be an inverse comment on Shakespearean staging but could also simply be catching a flavour of the era (“A girl? Dressed as a boy? Is nothing understandable these days?”)

The Crusade’s generally held up as historically accurate, which sure, if you want to submit to the official record as bona fide. This is a story that might easily have been a bit of a plod, even with Whitaker’s script and the same thesps, but Douglas Camfield keeps it crisp and gives it bite. 

The Time Meddler

If only Dennis Spooner were having as much fun with his supporting characters who weren’t the Meddling Monk, The Time Meddler might have been a minor classic. Instead, we have to settle for great fun whenever Peter Butterworth is on screen, when Hartnell isn’t on holiday, and when Steven’s being a sod and Vicki’s being the smartest person in the room (or monastery) but a bit of a plod when Vikings are being Vikings – which includes a spot of implicit off-screen raping – and Saxons are being drab (Sandifer comes up with one of her overthunk “misses the point” points for why complaining they’re dull is wrong, but it would be pointless to rehearse it here). On balance, this is a high spot of the season, but its more uneven than Dennis’ other delivery.

The Doctor: What do you mean, maybe? What do you think it is, a space helmet for a cow?

Which includes Douglas Camfield’s work. There’s some lovely stuff here; the low-angle shots on the cliffs complete with attempts at authentic studio skies show care that would be rarely taken again (About Time has it that “No attempt is made to make the studio set look like location work”), and the monastery sets look just fine (helped along nicely by the Monk’s gramophone record). The fight scenes decidedly less so, and no Dougie of later years would have been happy with the results (it makes Chris Barry’s earlier decision to cast a stuntman in a role look extraordinarily shrewd by comparison). We’ve been treated to some recreations of the censored stabbings in Checkmate, which is not at all incongruous but also mercifully brief (whether the real thing would have been quite so “symmetrical” is questionable).

The Monk: Oh. Oh, no more visitors. It’s getting it’s getting so that you can’t call a monastery your own. 

Every take on this story will go on about its remarkable, game-changing re-emphasis, be it in attitude (“The great thing about The Time Meddler is its sheer modernity, compared to the Hartnell stories that preceded it”: Andy Lane), theme (“… a massive change of emphasis for the programme… time can be changed by interference…”) or overstatement (“we’re not supposed to know that anything like this is possible within Doctor Who’s remit”). So I won’t. It is huge fun to see those dawning elements – in particular, A Battle of Wits’ cliffhanger – and note the pre-Chariots of the Gods? explanation for inexplicable early architectural feats: “For instance, do you really believe the ancient Britons could have built Stonehenge without the aid of my anti-gravitational lift?” Yes, I know all the hooey about how the pyramids could have been raised through blood, sweat and pulleys, but how tediously unimaginative is that? Da Vinci tried to build a flying machine, you know…

Vicki: I know, and according to this, it was the Monk who put him up to it. And listen to this: “Put two hundred pounds in a London bank in 1968. Nipped forward two hundred years and collected a fortune in compound interest”. 

And as much as The Time Meddler encourages the shift to admitting that history can be changed, it also offers the prospect that the version we have on file may not be all that reliable after all (“Well, at least that’s what the history books said happened”). The series has, of course, doggedly determined the facts are the facts, even when the facts actually prove to have been due to the Doctor’s/aliens’ presence (hence here, and possibly vaguely recalled by Adams when writing City of Death, or possibly not: “Met Leonardo Da Vinci and discussed with him the principles of powered flight”. And we’ve already seen that Daleks were responsible for the Marie, I mean Mary, Celeste mystery). Spooner broaching this area, in fiction and humorously so – “With a few hints and tips from me they’d be able to have jet airliners by 1320! Shakespeare’d be able to put Hamlet on television” – makes for a reassurance that nothing like this could actually have happened. And if it could have, someone would surely have intervened to sort out the resultant mess (“Hooray! Global warming by 1400” contests About Time, sticking endearingly to the official script). 

The Monk: By the way, I tried to get into your police box but the door was locked. What type’s yours, Doctor?
The Doctor: Mind your own business. 

We also have the Monk – who’s about fifty years earlier – in possession of an atomic bazooka (“It looks like some kind of neutron bomb, I think”), which obviously won’t work. He should have brought along a DEW instead. His is a Mk IV, and the chameleon circuit is a camouflage unit, which is tantamount to calling it a “cloaking device”. I can’t somehow see him getting up close with such planned carnage (although, he does prove handy against the Vikings, as does the Doctor, in quick succession). Generally speaking, though, as he suggests, “it’s more fun my way”. JN-T and Saward missed a trick having the Master rather than the Monk in The King’s Demons, as something altogether forgettable could have been given a decided lift (depending on who played him). 

The Doctor: That is the dematerialising control and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy. Now please stop bothering me.

Butterworth plays his part with consummate comic ease (he’s that bit more exaggerated than Troughton, but on the same axis). Hartnell has nearly as much fun, though, be it throwing hot tea in his face – while on holiday! – pulling the old “pretend gun in the back” ploy, telling him “And remember, no more monkery!” or continually taking the piss out of Steven. Who is, let’s face it, a bit of a pompous prick throughout. Vicki, in contrast, is thoroughly on the ball and commendably long suffering. Was Verity inspired by Steven’s dashing cloak here for the look of her next lead?

The Romans

O tempora, o mores! An irresistibly frothy confection, The Romans may not be the best comedy story, or the best Dennis Spooner, but it more than illustrates that such a genre shift can succeed. Babs and Ian get the serious storyline, swiftly sold into slavery after their much-celebrated post-coital reverie at the villa gives way, while the Doctor and Vicki get to indulge all the japes. Albeit, a fair portion of Barbara’s time is spent dodging randy sex pest Emperor Nero’s request for “a teeny-weeny kiss” as part of the farcical plot. So it isn’t all dread and doom for her!

Some have called out such Benny Hill antics as about as funny as Harpo Marx when captured under a harsh, modern spotlight. This is misguided, as Harpo Marx is, self-evidently, very funny. As is Derek Francis, lunging for Babs at one moment, having his pride pampered by the Doctor at the next, and finally ridding himself of his troublesome servant Tigelinus (Brian Proudfoot) the one after that (succumbing to the poison intended for Caesar). 

If there’s a bum note, it’s that the Ian subplot, straight edged as it is, isn’t really all that, even as Chris Barry does his best to essay both Ben-Hur (the galley) and Spartacus/Gladiator (some shots of zoo animals) hero beats for him (Russell, of course, did a screen test for Ben-Hur with George Baker; they were Messala and Ben-Hur respectively). The bigger problem is that Ian spends all his time with fellow slave Delos (Peter Diamond). One can see Barry’s logic, as the gladiatorial fight between the two in Inferno is one of the most seamlessly proficient the show has seen (if you can forgive the cramped setting: I tend to regard it as a “private showing”); whether that justifies casting stunt arranger Diamond, whose acting abilities are, let’s face it, limited, is a different matter (it’s a shame Barry didn’t swap him with the great Barry Jackson – “Remember me to Galli-free” – who plays mute assassin Ascaris).

Spooner’s structure is a delight, engineering a series of near misses of TARDIS crew members, such that there’s mutual obliviousness come the final reunion. The Doctor positively relishes the chance to get stuck in, notwithstanding Hartnell on full-fluff form. He’s quickly ahead of the game with regard to attempts to knock off the lyre player he’s impersonating (where Ascaris comes in, an amusing bit of tumbling on Jackson’s part giving the impression the Doctor, who taught the Mountain Mauler of Montana, is a prize pugilist: “Just as I’d got him all softened up and ready for the old one-two”). True, “hissy friend” Tavius (Michael Peake) takes a while to spill the beans regarding the reason Maximus Pettulian is there, but the Doctor takes it all in his stride. 

Nero: You will have to play as you have never played before.
The Doctor: Too true!

There are some marvellous gags throughout – Conspiracy is probably the pick of the four episodes – such as Nero putting his arm around Vicki – who swapped the poisoned chalice meant for Barbara, such that Nero got it – while remarking “If only I could lay my hands on whoever was responsible”. And the Doctor, who can barely play a note (he’s improved by The Five Doctors), positively mirthful at the prospect of giving a performance (above). Vicki is endlessly amused by him, and much of the what’s going on generally, including Rome burning down.

While the farce is to the fore, this is also a story that, in retrospect – since it’s the final reveal – offers a decidedly benign view of Christianity (one might argue the implicit opposite in several subsequent historicals). Tavius, seen clutching a wooden crucifix as Barbara leaves, recognises a kindred spirit in the slave and helps her (his action would otherwise be baffling). Babs is, of course, a good Christian girl, and I’m quite sure she and Ian will marry eventually so as to make their connubial bliss legit. As morality goes, it’s interesting that Vicki makes a big thing of puzzling why no one blames the poisoner (Ann Tirad), and she then is blamed by Poppea Kay Patrick) – for a scheme Vicki messed up; she dies in the arena as a result. Likewise, Ian’s “Well done, Delos!”, after the latter sticks a fire brand in a guard’s face, is perhaps a bit off. It’s also notable that, in contrast to his priapism for Babs’ pulchritude, Nero is entirely put off his stride by the appearance of Vicki, interrupting his flow (like the TARDIS crew, he presumably sees her as a child).

You also have Spooner openly scoffing at the series’ core precepts, of course. The Doctor expressly tells Vicki they are only there as observers in Conspiracy, but come the end of Inferno, he’s most tickled that, web-of-time-like, he’s responsible for the Great Fire of Rome (“Hmmm? My fault”). About Time considered The Romansgenuinely funny in a way no other Doctor Who story really is”, which is a genuinely silly thing to say, but at least it’s complementary, and proposed that, instead of a story, this is “a place where plots unfold”. The story obviously wasn’t breaking new ground or appearing in a vacuum, with both A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (on stage) and Carry on Cleo preceding it, but Spooner avoids their bawdiness – mostly – while coming up with sufficient playful invention and variation to justify Who’s version (I have to admit, though, the Emperor’s New Tunes would land better if Hartnell’s lyre miming were more proficient). Good fridge gag too. Both times.

Blu-ray Extras


Planet of Giants

William Russell in Conversation – Every time I see one of these, as engrossing and engaging as they usually are, and as attentive – if sometimes slightly too cod-psychologist – and well-prepared as Matthew Sweet is, I invariably wish he’d give his subjects more of a career overview. You know, all that stuff that we haven’t heard a hundred times before, that isn’t Doctor Who. How about Russell auditioning for Ben-Hur? How about, when he mentions he knew Dirk Bogarde, you ask him about the films he appeared in with him? Or if, when he lived opposite Robert Shaw, it was around the time he was in A Man for All Seasons? It’s not like there were going to be many more opportunities for his kind of discussion.

Russell’s teatime matinee-idol status (Ivanhoe) gets a mention, but not much. Billy is discussed (the avenue of exploring Hartnell’s painful childhood – cod-psychologist alert – is cut off because he “never asked”). He says Hartnell was “extremely silent about all these things”, regarding his reaction to Carole-Anne Ford leaving. Regarding Hartnell’s attitude to the role, though, “he’d landed with his arse in butter”. I’d seen suggestion the interview was rather sad as Russell wasn’t entirely with it, but he seemed compos mentis to me, give or take the occasional misunderstanding or slowness to engage (“By then I was in another world” of not appearing in Mawdryn Undead, I wasn’t sure about. I understood he had another role so wasn’t available). 

The Making of the Recon of Episodes Three and Four – I didn’t put myself through Sir Ian’s more-authentic-than-even-the-makers-would-have-made recon, but I did refresh myself on this and was grateful I was never subject to his direction.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Making of – a leisurely, indulgent doc from (2003) but quite likeable. Nicholas Smith is good value (on his “fly sort of character”: “One didn’t do a Stanislavsky rundown or analysis of a character like that. One just sort of got on and did it”). As is Bernard Kay. On Richard Martin, “he had one fault, which was was too nice”. As opposed to too modest. His anecdote on doing Doctors Who and Zhivago at the same time, and Hartnell claiming they offered him “a wonder full part” in the latter but he had to turn it down due to his Doctor commitments, is quite sad. Ann Davies found Bill grumpy. There’s lots of Nicholas Evans talking about pissing through a grating in Trafalgar Square.

Behind the Sofa – the combos are quite decent (Ford/Purves/O’Brien; Aldred/Bonnie; Fielding/Padders/Sutton), although it’s no surprise who delivers most of the quips. Everyone loves William Russell. Aldred is brimming with insufferably woke-servations (comments on the RP, the portrayal of women etc). Everyone thinks the Robomen are redolent of the Cybermen and that the Dalek voices aren’t up to snuff. Purves suggests “There’s more film in this than in the 46 episodes I did”. The departure scene elicits admiration that it’s allowed to unfold (although the squashed rondels behind Billy are noted). Generally, this is surprisingly well received (Fielding: “I think it stands up quite well”), with the view that the black and white adds something.

The Rescue

Mounting the Rescue – The making-of is short but well represented, with material from Ray Cusick and Chris Barry. O’Brien explains – as she does in several features/on several sofas – how she quickly learned she would be expending as much energy making Bill laugh to get him out of his rages as she would acting (he had about three such fits a day). The lighting guy rightly get some exposure (ahem), his work noted as “highly experimental”.

Behind the Sofa – inevitably, there’s a continual emphasis on what are seen as retrograde attitudes and behaviours (Janet on teenage bride Susan: “I have to say, I think she was a bit young, and the doctor was a bit precipitate”). Russell’s reactions to Billy are noted (“When’s he going to give you a cue?”) “I’ve seen you look like that often” (Padders to Fielding as cocky-lickin). Padders to Janet: “At least I had half-decent costumes”. Remarks on RP Babs et al. Dying in a tight skirt options. Purves notes the consistent highly skilled directors… so he clearly hadn’t seen The Chase in a while. Or The Web Planet. Bonnie and Sophie are a good pairing. Janet is “glad she’s wearing tights” when we can see up the back of Vicki’s skirt. Padders doesn’t think the sets are as good as The Dalek Invasion of Earth; Purves thinks they’re great. Fielding isn’t feeling it and avers of Vicki “The role of the female is so submissive and childlike”. Well, she is supposed to be a child. In contrast to Babs, whose role is being thrown off cliffs and getting up without a scratch on her before blowing away someone’s pet pooch. Neither very submissive nor childlike. O’Brien is very, very impressed by her legs at this point (“I’m no longer impressed by them”) Sophie really likes Billy’s Doctor. Sutton, as usual, comes up with some of the more considered observations, such as how it’s much more of an ensemble at this point, rather than being all about the Doctor. Maureen’s diminutive stature is note but “We’re all weenie”. The Didoans inevitably get called out.

Maureen O’Brien in Conversation – as ever, and I’m going to say this every time, Sweet should be more expansive in his conversation. Such as, when O’Brien mentions Eccleston, how about a segue to “You, of course, appeared in Cracker” (admittedly, the first one without Eccleston). Or Michael Redgrave. Even if she didn’t much enjoy her time on Doctor Who – mainly down to the loss of anonymity and the absence of a character to play – O’Brien’s a constantly engaging presence. There’s much on Billy, and how, yes, he was racist and homophobic, but “hate the sin but love the sinner” (you know, Moffat, rather than making it a oh-so-ho-ho-ho-so gag in the show fifty-odd years later). She draws attention to the homoerotic element in This Sporting Life in that regard. She does suggest of Bill, though, “He was dangerous, and I didn’t see it again until Chris Eccleston”. If she’s swapped “dangerous” for “rubbish”, talking about McCoy rather than Hartnell, I’d have agreed. There was The Myth Makers too, where Hartnell was jealous of her “actor’s love” affair with Max Adrian. Being relieved to find that was it (she was leaving). Becoming a supply teacher. Playing Volpone with Leo McKern and Leonard Rossiter. How she went to Canada rather than play Cleopatra opposite Gielgud: “I ran from success”. 

The Romans

What Has The Romans Ever Done for Us? – nice to see a broader take on a story in this 2009 making-of. I’d forgotten there were a few of these, that contextualised the production. No mention of how the Roman Empire was completely made up, of course, but with historians pointing out what is and is not “accurate”, I doubt that was going to be on the agenda. There are interviews with I, Claudius (Biggins) and A.D. (Anthony Andrews) alumni, along with Barry Jackson talking about his actor/tumbler status at that time and his gladiator act. And trying to cover for Billy drying being difficult when he was playing a mute. Peter Ustinov’s performance in Quo Vadis is noted, but there’s no mention of the story’s comic precedents, curiously. The unnecessary clip from Fires of Pompeii just served as a reminder they did it much better back in the ’60s, expensive frills be damned.

Behind the Sofa – O tempora, o mores! Might also sum up the throng’s reaction to this one. No one’s very keen. No one’s finding it very funny. Although, fair enough, Bonnie’s fits of laughter over the centurion’s moving helmet are very funny in themselves. Janet: “I wonder why historical stories weren’t as popular”. Purves admits “that was a good fight”, but “I thought it was fun. But it was rubbish”. Bonnie thinks “It’s a little pedestrian”. Whether it would have been more or less appreciated, had they watched the whole thing, is debatable (Purves can’t understand the Doctor not knowing what happened to Barbara and Ian at the end, unaware it was key to the plotting). O’Brien admits she “loved doing it” as it was “so cheeky all the way through”. Sophie, ultra-feminist – “I think it’s brilliant it’s a woman responsible”, of Delia Derbyshire’s take on Ron Grainer’s theme – extraordinaire, is giving Janet a run for her money (at least Fielding right-ons mischievously). She also comments “I’m glad Doctor Who didn’t turn into a comedy after all”. No love, but it was a tragedy while you were in it. Sandifer would have been in good company with this sorry lot: “a lowbrow runaround of a farce that even Jaqueline Hill seems bored of by the end, in no small part because her entire plot involves being sleazily hit on by Nero”. Get her. She didn’t much like Spooner’s previous either.

The Dennis Spooner retrospective really needed a bit more substance, enjoyable as what we get is. Brian Clemens is on good blokey form, telling how Spooner’s dad went off chatting with Lew Grade on one occasion, telling him what was wrong with his programmes, and that Spooner’s best script was unproduced Escape from Storm Mountain (which sounds a bit like a Disney sequel). Rob Shearman offers a valuable tonic after all that Behind the Sofa disdain, suggesting that, while he knows it’s not a very popular opinion, The Romans is “probably the best Doctor Who of the ’60s”.

The Web Planet

Tales of Isop – the 2005 making of provides some balance to the brickbats, with O’Brien suggest the script features “extraordinarily poetic stuff” and comment regarding the cancer subtext. Richard Martin describes how he and Dennis Spooner came up with the Optera subplot (allegedly), and Verity Lambert was less than convinced by their realisation. O’Brien compares Prapillus (Jolyon Booth) to Prospero, and Martin Jarvis recalls that William Russell was “lovely”. O’Brien does admit that the result is “strangely amateurish looking”. And she’s a supporter!

Behind the Sofa – Purves tells how Richard Martin thought he was too good to play an insect. Bonnie and Sarah are both immediately reminded of “Clangers”, while the latter observes of the Zarbi, “That’s very irritating, that noise”. Purves thinks Billy’s hat is Mr Pastry-esque. “Gosh, it looks a bit like Cats” reckons Sophie. Bonnie: “That one lost me a little”. Sarah: “Not sure what I made of that, not a lot”. Padders considers her era’s creatures look really good by comparison.

The Crusade 

Looking for David – I’m on the ambivalent side when it comes to Toby Hadoke’s tribute trails. He’s affable, and the productions mean well, but they rather over-smear the treacle across the soundtracks and put emotions over factual nuggets, which tends to make for extended indulgence. This is one of the better ones, but at an hour in length, it’s desperately thin. I rather wondered if Simon Gerrier was sitting on some prize reveals. If not, his book on the man’s going to be a pamphlet. The biggest takeaway is how easy it is for gaping, unpluggable holes to appear in someone’s life story. We get David Whitaker’s acting work, his relatively swift climb within the hallows the BBC after submitting scripts, his being pals with James Beck, his marriage to June Barry, his air of mystery (“a quiet sort of chap”) and fisticuffs with Terry Nation. But that final one is emblematic. Something went on, but what?  And was David blacklisted after going to Moscow and delivering a controversial speech at the second conference of the International Writers’ Guild? It certainly seems he was effectively cancelled in 1970, with the BBC failing even to reply to him by 1975 when inquiring after work. He was in Australia for a spell, remarried, and would die in 1980 at 51, having never written again for TV. It’s a doc that mainly leaves a string of questions.

The Space Museum

Rob Shearman’s defence is worth a look, if only because, unlike some of Rob’s causes, it’s justified (he really ought to have appeared on The Two Doctors disc).

The Chase

Behind the SofaThe Chase seems to go down quite well, although we don’t get to see a response to the Time/Space Visualiser (so the sequence was presumably entirely excised – they squashed the story’s Beatles). As usual with this sofa set, Bonnie and Sophie are the highlight (I somehow doubt Sophie and Wendy is going to work so well on Season 9). The Daleks’ three-part harmonies are noted (“TARDIS TARDIS TARDIS”). Sarah is struck by the “very bizarre” music (this is in part 2, I think, showing how much they haven’t seen). “You little fool!” gets a concerned reaction, as does anything even vaguely maligning the female companion. “It looks rather like a giant scrotum” notes Purves of the Mire Beast (something Sophie also testifies to). There’s an enthusiastic response to Purves’ performance(s). “A large Christmas bauble” is Sutton’s assessment of the Mechanoid. Bonnie squeals when “He [Russell] put his hand down her [Hill’s] trousers!” Everyone likes the photo montage at the end (shot by Camfield, notes Martin in the featurette, also admitting it’s the best bit). Perhaps an edited down version of The Chase is the way forward, given the appreciative response.

The Time Meddler

Behind the Sofa – while I found O’Brien engaging in her Sweet interview, I rather wished she’d stop whinging by this point, about “how heavily macho it is”. And yes, Steven’s a dick, but I can’t see we’re supposed to think he’s right to be “very patronising” (as for the Doctor, he’s like that to everyone). Sutton notes how much fight sequences have improved since, so she must have been snoozing during The Romans’ (very good) one. Sophie rather jovially comments “She’s been pillaged” of the raped Saxon. They all love Peter Butterworth, note the Viking helmets are wrong, and that one is called Sven. Padders feels a bit sorry for the Monk being stranded there. Everyone seems to like it (“I didn’t think the comedy one worked at all” comments Bonnie, having just watched another comedy one). There’s also a suggestion from Sophie that the emphasis isn’t quite so much on good triumphing over evil at this point, which is fair.

Season 2: Flight Through Eternity – Surprisingly slimline season overview. If you haven’t got anything new from the cast and crew (to be expected really), you’d probably be advised to get some fan commentators in who have a distinctive take.

The Consensus


A few notable poll placings over the years:

DWM 1998/09/14/23*

1. The Dalek Invasion of Earth 39, 44, 47, (1/29)
2. The Time Meddler 98, 75, 77, (2/29)
3. The Crusade 69, 100, 128, (13/29)
4. The Romans 110, 97, 131, (9/29)
5. The Rescue 134, 127, 171, (12/29)
6. The Chase 122, 157, 175, (14/29)
7. Planet of Giants 124, 163, 214, (25/29)
8. The Web Planet 143, 178, 219, (29/29)
9. The Space Museum 147, 190, 232 (28/29)

Outpost Gallifrey 2003

1. The Dalek Invasion of Earth 28
2. The Crusade 40
3. The Time Meddler 51
4. The Romans 70
5. The Rescue 120
6. The Chase 121
7. Planet of Giants 131
8. The Web Planet 151
9. The Space Museum 154

DWB 1985/87/89

1. The Dalek Invasion of Earth 13, 11, 15
2. The Web Planet 30, 26, 22
3. The Chase 59, 61, 66
4. The Crusade -, 98, 98
5. Planet of Giants -, -, 80
6. The Space Museum -, 82, –  
7. The Romans 87, -, –
8. The Time Meddler -, 105, –
9. The Rescue -, -, –

*Addendum 31/03/23: It seems, being spineless cretins, that DWM has elected to forgo a 60th anniversary rundown of all 300-odd stories in its poll. Not, I somehow suspect, out of fear of offending Colin (again), but due to the certainty that Jodie’s run would languish in the lowermost reaches of the chart. They aren’t even giving the average scores. The craven-hearted, spineless poltroons. The chicken-brained, biological disasters. The meddlesome hussies. The dungheads.


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