An Anonymous Exit: The Faceless Ones

To viewers of Doctor Who in 1967, goodbyes were nothing new .  The first four seasons saw the arrival and departure of eight companions (and one Doctor).  These departures varied in quality; some were excellent (like those of the first Doctor and Steven), and some were..well, basically a way to get rid of a character quickly (do I even need to mention a name here?). “The Faceless Ones” was the final adventure for Polly and Ben, and, while it was a better exit than that of Dodo (whose last episode was “The War Machines,” Polly and Ben’s first), it is a rather weak farewell.  “The Faceless Ones” is a rather nonsensical story that is really more of a showcase for the excellent chemistry between Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines than a fitting end to Ben and Polly’s time in the TARDIS.

The Doctor with two Chameleons, one with a stolen identity and one without

The Doctor with two Chameleons, one with a stolen identity and one without

The TARDIS materializes on a runway at Gatwick Airport.  In the confusion that ensues from landing in the middle of a functioning airport, the travelers separate and Polly ends up witnessing a murder.  When she reunites with the Doctor and Jamie, she tells them what she saw and the Doctor decides to investigate.  He discovers that the man who Polly saw being shot has, in fact, been electrocuted.  This intrigues him since the technology for this has not yet been invented on earth, and he sets off to tell someone in charge what has happened.  Unfortunately, the murderer has been listening to them the entire time and, when he learns Polly can identify him, decides to grab her as she lags behind the others.

The Doctor and Jamie speak to the Commandant (who is in charge of the airport), but he is suspicious of their story and since he is learning about a possible murder committed by an alien from two rather strangely dressed people without passports, it’s not difficult to see why.  What’s more amazing is that they eventually are able to convince him of the truth…but I’ll get to my issues with the story later.  For now, let’s just say that the remainder of the story involves many characters, including a detective from Scotland Yard and a young woman named Samantha, who is looking for her missing brother, either being captured, killed, or menaced by the aliens.

The aliens, in this case, are Chameleons.  They are faceless (hence the title) creatures who are sort of a cross between humans and lizards.  Their home world was destroyed, and, with its destruction, they somehow lost their identities (just don’t think about it too hard).  Their scientists have come up with a way of transferring the identity of another person to a chameleon, which is why they are on earth.  They have started a tour company for people ages 18-25 so that they can harvest enough young people to provided their entire race with identities.  The lives of 50,000 people hang in the balance as the Doctor tries to prevent the Chameleons from carrying out their rather outlandish plan.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this story, but it’s an interesting premise in a weak story.  The problem isn’t really with the structure of the story.  In some other episodes,  when the story shifts to the point of view of the aliens, it begins to drag.   That is not the case in this story.  Since you don’t actually know what is going on until you are well into the story, the pieces that you get of their plan are intriguing and keep the viewer guessing.

The Doctor and his companions

The Doctor and his companions

The problem also is not with the alien race.  With the ability to steal the identity and persona of others , the Chameleons could be an interesting race.  In many ways they are the predecessors of the Zygons, who also have the ability to mimic other people.  The concept of faceless aliens might even be creepier than the slightly more outlandish appearance of the Zygons, but it doesn’t seem like that aspect of the Chameleons was really utilized in the story (although it is difficult to tell, since only two of the episodes can be seen).  Instead, the Chameleons spend most of their time with their stolen identities carrying out a plan that seems destined to fail.  How exactly do you make eight planeloads of people disappear every day (from multiple airports, no less)?  That is my main problem with this story: it requires people to keep behaving like idiots.  No one except Samantha has noticed that their loved one went on a Chameleon tour and is never heard from again?   I’m assuming with so many planeloads going missing a day, it doesn’t take the Chameleons too long to get to 50,000, but it seems like more than one person would become suspicious.  It also seems rather idiotic to leave behind the bodies of the airport personnel they have taken over.  Leaving them in plain sight in cars parked in the airport parking lot doesn’t seem like the move of a race that thinks they are the smartest in the galaxy.

Even the human characters in the story seen to make ridiculous choices at every turn.  People keep sneaking back into the Chameleon Tours office one or two at a time, despite the fact that everyone who does so is either dead, missing, or attacked.  This story also features an incredibly abrupt about-face for the Chameleons, once they realize the Doctor has the ability to destroy exactly 24 of them.  He makes the Chameleons promise to return to their home (I guess it’s not completely destroyed?) and their scientists have to find a new way to save their species (but he will give them a few ideas).  Despite the fact that they seem to have had no problems killing people indiscriminately up until this point, they agree to the Doctor’s terms and, suddenly, are not really bad guys after all.

With all that I have criticized in the story, you might be wondering what makes it worthwhile.  It really is an entertaining story, even if it doesn’t make much sense.  It is the first story to let Jamie step to the forefront.  He displays great chemistry with the Doctor and Samantha.  The scene between the immigration officer and the Doctor and Jamie is very funny; the Doctor wants to hide the truth of their mysterious appearance at the airport, while Jamie keeps blurting out the truth.  However, despite the obvious chemistry, the Doctor and Jamie spend a great deal of this story apart.  This means that Jamie also spends a great deal of time with Samantha (Pauline Collins), who was clearly being introduced as a possible new companion.  Samantha was quite determined and clearly had her own ideas, which could have made her an interesting companion.  She didn’t seem to be the damsel in distress type at all and she and Jamie had a bit of a flirty relationship (they even kiss, although once it was a way for Jamie to distract her while he stole her ticket).  Pauline Collins was offered a role as the new companion, but she turned in down.  This was not her final appearance on Doctor Who, though.  She appeared as Queen Victoria in the new series episode “Tooth and Claw.”

Jamie and Samantha

Jamie and Samantha

Another thing that this story has going for it is the fact that it features Patrick Troughton a great deal.  His Doctor is really highlighted in this story.  He is clever and devious without losing his comedic touch.  His Doctor is still flying by the seat of his pants, but he projects a great deal of confidence in this story as opposed to his usual tendency to play the clown.  The Chameleons already think that they are the smartest beings around, so there is no need for him to downplay his abilities: the Chameleons already underestimate him. The Doctor also makes the intriguing statement that he has never been able to make it back to his home, one of the first references (albeit a subtle one) to the fact that he is a fugitive.

The only characters who are not served by this story are Polly and Ben.  They appear in episodes 1, 2, and the final 3 minutes of episode 6.  Polly isn’t even Polly when she appears in episode 2, since it is a Chameleon who has taken over Polly’s identity who appears in the second episode.  They were clearly being pushed to the background to get the audience prepared for their departure.  They get to have an actual goodbye scene, which is better than some companions, but it’s still a bit anti-climactic.  It’s almost an afterthought that they decide to leave.  Plus I found it a bit annoying that the Doctor says that Ben can get back to his ship and become an admiral while Polly can “look after Ben.”  Poor Polly is always being underestimated and put in the “appropriate” place for a woman, which I guess is supporting her man.

What is unusual is that they get to return to exactly the point at which they left.  To anyone else, it will appear that they were never gone.  They are very quick to leave the Doctor when they realize that they have returned to their own time, but they were never really that excited to be traveling with the Doctor at all.  Most of their time with the first Doctor was spent wishing they were back home and being completely unimpressed with the ability to travel in time and space, so I guess this was an appropriate ending to their time in the TARDIS.

A final look at Ben and Polly

A final look at Ben and Polly

Overall, I enjoyed “The Faceless Ones,” despite its flaws.  As long as Patrick Troughton plays a major role in the story, even a weak script is usually entertaining.  It’s too bad that Polly and Ben couldn’t have been more than minor characters in their final adventure, but they do get to share a moment with the Doctor before they go.  It seems that July 20, 1966 was a busy day for the Doctor.  He ends up losing three companions and facing off against WOTAN, the Chameleons, and, since this episode leads directly into the next adventure, the Daleks.  With “the Evil of the Daleks” coming up next, it doesn’t look like the Doctor’s schedule will be clearing any time soon.


A Shellfish Society: The Macra Terror

“The Macra Terror” is a perfect bridge between the stories of the Hartnell era and what became the typical Troughton story.  The stories of the Hartnell era tended to focus on dystopian societies or people rebelling against an oppressive system.  Ian Stuart Black wrote “The Macra Terror.”  He had previously written two other stories for Doctor Who: “The War Machines” and the best non-historical story of the Hartnell era, “The Savages,”   “The Macra Terror” continues the themes that are present throughout his work for Doctor Who, but also adds a new aspect; he combines his familiar dystopian themes with a “monstrous” alien race.  Black mixes a dystopian society, a base under siege story, and a monster of the week and somehow manages to come up with a cohesive narrative.

A giant, menacing Macra (the only actual sized model they made)

A giant, menacing Macra (the only actual sized model they made)

The TARDIS lands after the travelers have seen that a large claw lies in their near future.   They are in an earth colony of the future.  They arrive just as the police are chasing a disturbed colonist through the area.  Medok, the colonist, attacks the travelers and they end up helping to capture him.  Their help is greatly appreciated, and they welcomed as visitors to the colony (where everyone is abnormally happy) and invited to meet with the leader.  The leader’s title, in a reference back to the days when they arrived on the planet by ship, is the Pilot.  There is also the mysterious Controller (who has the ultimate authority), whose voice is heard everywhere, but is only seen as a photo.

The travelers receive a warm welcome from the leader, who suggests that they visit the Refreshing Department to get, well, refreshed a bit, but the Doctor is wary of the colony.  He senses that something is wrong; everyone is a little too happy.  He soon finds a way to talk to Medok again and learns that Medok was once a happy member of the colony, but is now accused of seeing things.  Medok claims that he has seen large, ugly creatures that roam around the colony at night.  The Doctor feels that there must be something to Medok’s story, since those in charge are so eager to suppress it,  and allows Medok to escape, getting himself into trouble in the process.

Of course Medok is not crazy and, eventually, the Doctor and his companions each have their moment coming face to face with a Macra, the giant crab-like creatures that Medok saw.  The Doctor eventually learns that the reason that everyone is so happy in the colony: the citizens have been brainwashed into obeying the controller.   They are also programed to deny the existence of the Macra, even when they have seen one.  The Doctor realizes a bit too late that this technique will be used on him and his companions.  He manages to save Polly and Jamie from the effects of the brainwashing, but Ben has fallen victim to their suggestions.  The Doctor then needs to find a way to defeat the Macra, who are now in charge of the colony, and figure out how to get the old Ben back.

The Doctor gets another new hat.

The Doctor gets another new hat.

I thought “The Macra Terror” had a clever premise, even if it’s not perfectly realized.  The characters are interesting and it makes good use of the themes that Black used in his earlier stories.  It continues his interest in the idea that societies need to brainwash their members to keep everyone happy and/or under control, as well as the importance of thinking for one’s self.  This, like “The Savages,” is another example of a dystopian society.  Everyone has been brainwashed into believing that they are happy, so they don’t want to disobey their controller, who they think is responsible for their happiness.  Of course, the controller is looking out for the interests of the Macra and not the humans, but the members of the colony don’t see that because the Macra have conditioned them not to question the controller.

However, as in “The Savages,” the story stops short of really examining this society.  This isn’t a huge complaint, since I do understand that at this point Doctor Who is very much a children’s show, but I was left with a lot of questions.  How will this society function, now that the Doctor exposed the controller as a fraud?  I can’t help but wonder if the colonists were trained to obey the controller unquestioningly before the Macra took over, or if it was the gas and hypnotic suggestions that allowed the Macra to take over without anybody noticing.   The colonists choose the Doctor to become the new Pilot, but he runs away (as the Doctor generally does from anything that would tie him down), leaving to society to find a new path on its own and there’s no Steven to leave in charge here.

I also would have liked to have learned a bit more about the Macra.  They are the weakest part of the story.  It was implied that they came from deep within the planet, but why did they decide to take over the colony?  What exactly was their plan, besides getting the humans to harvest the gas they needed to breathe?  Could all of the Macra speak, or just the leader (and why was the leader the only white Macra?)? Other than being the “monsters” of the piece, they aren’t given much purpose

Speaking of the Macra, it would be interesting to see more than just a few seconds of the Macra.  The idea of having giant, sentient crabs as an alien race is an unusual one, and the story does need the Macra to be menacing, if it’s to be believable.  Since all four episodes are lost, we only have tiny clips.  It’s difficult to tell from the few seconds of footage just how effective the Macra were, but I tend to suspect that they are better in my mind than they actually were onscreen.  The clip that exists of the Macra attacking Polly reminds me a bit of Bela Lugosi thrashing around with the fake octopus in Bride of the Monster.  And, given what I know of the production values on the show at this point, I do wonder if actually seeing the monsters in this case might detract from the story. However, since I am pretty willing to accept whatever monsters they create, even if they look like people in rubber suits (and yes Voords, I’m thinking of you in particular), I’d still have rather seen more of the story.

The lack of images is especially felt in some of the comical scenes.  For instance, when the travelers visit the Refreshing Department, I would have liked to have been able to see more of the machines (and the gag about the Doctor looking all neat and tidy before quickly finding a way to rumple himself up again).  I also would have loved to see Jamie and the others doing the Highland Fling to escape from the colonists.  That seems like the perfect exit for Troughton’s Doctor, to simply dance away.

Ben and Jamie during the brainwashing

Ben and Jamie during the brainwashing

I feel that “The Macra Terror” is the first time that we truly see Troughton’s Doctor.  Now that it is the second half of his first season, I feel like both Troughton and the writers have a clearer sense of who his Doctor is.  Troughton’s Doctor has been odd from the beginning, but in this story we really see him demonstrate a sense of humor.  Just as the constant happy music and singing in the background was starting to drive me crazy (I know, it serves a purpose because it shows how artificial the society is, but it does get a bit annoying), the Doctor makes a joke about how annoying it is.  This is a clear distinction from Hartnell’s Doctor, who had a sense of humor, but certainly would not be cracking a joke (he certainly had an opportunity with the never ending ballad of the Last Chance Saloon in “The Gunfighters).   Troughton also gets to show off how clever his Doctor is in this story, while still keeping his careless, haphazard approach to things.  For instance, he figures out the “secret” mathematical formula by scribbling on the walls with a piece of chalk.  When he learns that he has discovered the formula, he is obviously quite proud of himself, but he rather downplays the achievement.  This feeds into one of the hallmarks of Troughton’s Doctor: he is always the  smartest man in the room, but he doesn’t like to let people know that.

As for the companions, the story gives Ben a larger role than usual.  He is the only one of the group to be affected by the colony’s brainwashing, so much of the story shows Ben gradually regaining control of his thoughts.  He serves as an antagonist for part of the story before ultimately saving everyone in the end.  It’s the first story since “The War Machines,” the last story Black wrote for the series, to actually make Ben a central part of the plot.  Jamie also gets his personality developed a bit more as well.  He is clearly the most suspicious of the group and the only companion to question the society from the start.  He is also not very susceptible to the brainwashing, and I wondered if this might have been due in part to his unwavering loyalty to the Doctor.  Ben has his doubts about just how competent the Doctor is, but Jamie trusts him completely.  He is quick to turn on Ben when it becomes clear that Ben is now on the side of the Controller, because he sees him as being against the Doctor.  Everything is very black and white to Jamie.  However, he and Ben do share the trait of being quick to jump into action, although Jamie is a bit more impulsive, like the Doctor.  As for Polly in this story…well, she gets a haircut.

Polly doing what she does best (and showing off her new haircut)

Polly doing what she does best (and showing off her new haircut)

Overall, I enjoyed the story.  The ending feels a bit rushed, but other than that it’s a good story.  My main complaint would be the poor use of Polly.  It was a nice twist on “The War Machines” that it is Ben, not Polly who gets brainwashed in this story.  I worried that Polly would be the brainwashed one because women are the “weaker sex” or some other sexist nonsense, but the story did not fall into that trap.  However, I did notice that Polly needed Ben to rescue her in “The War Machines” while Ben is able to rescue himself from the brainwashing.  While Polly is nowhere near as helpless as Dodo (but really, who is?) and she doesn’t let the boys hold her back from any action, she is a very clever person and it would be nice to see the writers use her cleverness in the service of the story.  “The Highlanders” really shows when the writers gave Polly something to do, she was a very interesting character.  Unfortunately, most writers don’t seen to take much of an interest in her.  She seems to have been seen as the perfect victim and spends way too much time panicking or as a captive.  As a matter of fact, it amazes me the Anneke Wills could have much voice left after Polly’s constant screaming.  Maybe the production team on Doctor Who spent a lot of their budget on lozenges?

The Cybermen Return: The Moonbase

The Patrick Troughton era is also very much the era of the Cybermen; Troughton’s Doctor faced them more than any other Doctor.  Although their first appearance was in William Hartnell’s final story, “The Tenth Planet,” Troughton’s Doctor faced them four times (5 if you count “The Five Doctors”).  After making a memorable debut on the show, “The Moonbase” is the first of the Cybermen’s many returns to the show.  In Kit Peder’s sequel, it has been about 90 years since the destruction of the Cybermen’s home planet, Mondas, and it features a significant change in the goals of the Cybermen.  In “The Tenth Planet,” their ultimate goal was to convert humans to “be like us.” Their return sees them out to destroy humanity, now that they perceive humans as a threat.

The new Cybermen

The new Cybermen

The adventure begins because the Doctor attempts to prove to his companions that he does, in fact, have control of where the TARDIS lands.  He decides to go to Mars, but instead has a very bumpy landing on the moon.  At this point the second Doctor does not appear to have the curiosity of his predecessor, since he wants to leave immediately, but Ben and Polly want to take the opportunity to explore the surface of the moon.  While they are exploring, Jamie injures himself and is taken by unidentified men into a nearby base.  The Doctor, Polly, and Ben follow him into the base.

They soon learn that they are in the year 2070 and this base is run by an international group in charge of the gravitron (no, not the carnival ride), which controls the weather on the earth.  A mysterious illness has struck the base; men are collapsing and dark lines develop, almost like veins, across their body.  Hobson, the leader of the base, suspects the travelers of somehow being responsible for the disease, but he is soon forced to acknowledge that the Cybermen, who were all believed to have been killed when Mondas exploded, have infiltrated the base.

The mysterious disease with which the men have come down is, in fact, due to something the Cybermen have put in the sugar; it results in the affected men being under cyber control.  The Cybermen have decided that earth is a threat to them, so they wish to use the gravitron to destroy the earth.  It is up to the Doctor and his companions to stop the cybermen before it’s too late.

The story is an entertaining one.  The story moves along at a good pace, and the early Cybermen make an interesting villain.   However, it is not without its faults.  Although it does not reach the levels of absurdity that were found in the previous story, “The Underwater Menace,” there are some moments that require you to abandon logic or accept characters making incredibly idiotic decisions.  One such example of the former is when the Cybermen have shot a hole in the glass dome around the gravitron.  Hobson first plugs up the hole with his jacket and then with the coffee tray.  Somehow I doubt that either of these objects would actually prevent the oxygen from escaping!  An example of the latter comes after the people have disabled the men that the Cybermen took over.  They remove the headgear that the Cybermen are using to control them, but they place it right next to them in their sick bay.  It was very helpful of them to leave it within arms reach for when they get reactivated.  It’s also amusing that each member of the international (basically European with at least one Australian) group wears a shirt with their rank in the order of importance and the flag of their home country.  The Frenchman, Benoit, even wears a scarf tied jauntily around his neck, because that is clearly what all French people do.

Benoit (in his jaunty French scarf) looks to Hobson for advice about his fallen colleague.

Benoit (in his jaunty French scarf) looks to Hobson for advice about his fallen colleague.

There are also interesting developments with the Cybermen.  As I stated before, their mission has changed.  They are now out to simply destroy everyone on earth, rather than convert them.  Additionally, almost every time they appeared on the show their appearance changed (at least it makes sense that they would continue to “upgrade” themselves), and this is no exception.  Gone are their cloth faces, replaced by a far more metallic looking head.  These Cybermen look more robotic than their predecessors, and they have the ability to shoot energy from their hands.  It is also interesting that the Cybermen recognize the Doctor; the last time they saw him he was William Hartnell.  However, the timeline for the Cybermen has always been a bit confusing (something I’m hoping to work out as I watch these episodes), so this could be explained by “The Invasion” which was not yet made but takes place in an earlier time. In one final random note,  John Levene, who went on to play the popular Sargent Benton in the UNIT stories, makes his first appearance on the show playing one of the Cybermen.

As for the Doctor himself, this is, perhaps, the most clever we’ve seen the second Doctor.  He seems a bit more in control and more certain of what he is doing in this story.  Of course, Hobson doesn’t listen to him and even suspects him of sabotage, but ultimately he shows that he was correct.   Thankfully, he is also without the ridiculous hat he has sported in all of the other stories and he doesn’t play the recorder once.  After watching all of these early Troughton stories, you can really see his Doctor taking shape.  By this point, the playfulness, the impulsiveness, and the quick thinking that are the hallmarks of his Doctor have all been added to his characterization and gone is some of the early bizarre behavior.  He’s still eccentric, but it’s been toned down quite a bit.

The companions, as in “The Underwater Menace,” do not fare as well.  Polly, as usual, has moments in which she gets to show how clever she is, but she also screams a lot.  She also makes coffee twice, which is, apparently, her job when the Cybermen attack, since that was her job in “The Tenth Planet” as well.  She spends most of the first half of the story tending to the sick Jamie (since nursing is clearly women’s work), but she is the first to see the Cybermen.   Her best moment is when she is the one to figure out how to defeat the Cybermen inside the base.  She realizes that the plastic apparatuses on the Cybermen’s chests are their most vulnerable point because plastic can be dissolved.  Of course she is able to figure this out by thinking of nail polish remover (I guess Pedler wanted her scientific knowledge to be anchored in a traditionally feminine activity?), but the fact is that she is the only one to think of this.   I was a bit annoyed that when it came time to actually attack the Cybermen, Ben tells her to stay behind because, “this is men’s work.” Happily, though, Polly ignores him and joins the attack.

The moment before a Cyberman quite nimbly leaps out of the bed at which they're staring.  Who knew Cybermen could be so agile?

The moment before a Cyberman quite nimbly leaps out of the bed at which they’re staring. Who knew Cybermen could be so agile?

Ben and Jamie are still not really developed.  Ben demonstrates a great deal of scientific knowledge in this story, which is his main contribution to the story (those were the lines that they couldn’t give to Jamie, since he’s from the past) and is, again, a man of action, quick to fight back against the Cybermen.  Jamie is unconscious for most of the first half, muttering about the phantom piper, but joins in for the second half.  You still don’t get to know Jamie all that well, however, since he is basically just getting lines that would have been given to Ben.  There does seem to be a bit of a rivalry developing between Ben and Jamie, though, as Ben seems to worry about Jamie trying to impress Polly.  Something tells me that Ben’s feeling for Polly are a bit more than friendly at this point.

Overall, I quite enjoy “The Moonbase.”  It’s not the best Cyberman adventure, but it’s a story that holds your interest until the end.  Perhaps the most random element of the story is introduced in the final moments, when the Doctor suggests they turn on the time scanner.  The time scanner allows the Doctor a glimpse of what will happen in the future, which in this case shows an image of a claw, leading into the next story, “The Macra Terror.”  If he has the ability to peek into his own near future, why doesn’t he use it more often?  This seems like a useful tool that he has never used before and doesn’t use later.  Although I have to admit that knowing what’s coming next is never of particular importance to Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, so maybe I can see why he wouldn’t want to use it too often.  Where’s the fun in having a plan?

Of Sequins and Fish: The Underwater Menace

I am about to admit to an opinion that may shock some people: I enjoy “The Underwater Menace.” There, I’ve said it.  When the two lost Doctor Who episodes were discovered in 2011, I was firmly of the opinion that the two recovered episodes came from two of the worst stories from Hartnell and Troughton.  While I still stand by my opinion that “Galaxy 4” is one of Hartnell’s worst stories, I’ve revised my opinion of “The Underwater Menace.”  My first experience with the story was with the only surviving episode (the third of four) and I’ll admit that I came away with a rather negative opinion.  It was difficult to follow what exactly was going on and it was just…strange.  Watching the reconstruction, however, has given me a new perspective on this much maligned story.

The Doctor continues his habit of trying new headgear.

The Doctor continues his habit of trying new headgear.

The story is, admittedly, a strange one.  The Doctor, Polly, Ben, and new companion Jamie have just left the Scottish highlands and Jamie is, understandably, a bit confused by his new surroundings.  He seems to adapt quite quickly however, once the TARDIS materializes on an old volcanic island in the sea sometime after 1968.  One by one, unseen beings apprehend the travelers, and they soon find themselves in an elevator that leads to far below sea level.

A feast of plankton is waiting to greet the travelers, which causes the Doctor to realize that Professor Zaroff, a Russian scientist who was believed to have been kidnapped 20 years previously, must be nearby.  The travelers soon learn why they have been brought down to this undersea civilization: they are sacrifices for the goddess Amdo.  Luckily, the Doctor manages to send a note to Zaroff before being lead off to the sacrifice.  As the travelers are about to be dropped into a shark tank (how James Bond-ish!), Zaroff comes in and stops the sacrifice demanding to speak to the Doctor.  With the sacrifice stopped, Ben and Jamie go to work in the mines, the Doctor goes with Zaroff to his laboratory, and Polly will be converted into a fish person (she will surgically receive plastic gills).  The fish people are the slave labor force who collect the constant supply of plankton that the civilization needs to survive.

The Doctor soon learns that they are in the lost civilization of Atlantis.  Thanks to air pockets in the caves and the shaft of a dormant volcano (seriously, that’s all the explanation you’re going to get in this story) life has continued on the bottom of the sea for the survivors of Atlantis.  Professor Zaroff has promised to raise Atlantis from the bottom of the ocean, but his plan involves draining the ocean into the core of the earth which will result in the entire earth blowing up.  While this is technically keeping his word to raise Atlantis (he never promised that Atlantis would be raised in one piece!), the Doctor can see that he has clearly gone mad.  The remainder of the story consists of the Doctor and his companions, along with a few helpful Atlantians, fighting to stop the mad scientist from blowing up the earth.

Everything in this story is over the top, which is what makes it enjoyable.   The story is always entertaining, since you never really know what to expect from this unusual story.  Does it make sense that the people of Atlantis have been living under the ocean? Not really.  Is Professor Zaroff’s plan a logical one? Not at all.  However, this is hardly new for the series; bizarre plans have been seen before.  Is the plan of the Daleks in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” any better?  People can accept that the Daleks want to drill to the core of the earth and then pilot it like a spaceship, but they can’t accept that a madman might want to destroy the earth, just because he has the power?  I actually have a bigger problem with the Daleks’ plan because that is in a story that is meant to be taken seriously.

"Nothing in the world can stop me now!"

I’ve heard criticisms of Joseph Furst’s performance as Professor Zaroff (and I can’t help but wonder if the name is an allusion to General Zaroff from “The Most Dangerous Game”); some people complain that he is too over the top.  However, he is playing a man who is clearly insane and power crazed.  The part isn’t exactly screaming for subtlety.   He manages to keep his performance interesting, which is important when you are playing a madman.   Additionally, this is hardly the first time a villain has been over the top.  An example that jumps to mind is Tobias Vaughn in “The Invasion.” He however, is a bit out of tune with the rest of the story, since the rest of the story is much more dramatic and serious, while Zaroff is perfectly in tune with the rest of this crazy serial.

Places, everyone! The water ballet is about to start!

Places, everyone! The water ballet is about to start!

Of course the most memorable feature of this story are the fish people themselves.  I would love to know how their costumes were designed because they are quite something to look at.  Patrick Troughton was unhappy with the way they turned out, as he had every right to be if he was hoping for even a slightly believable looking creature.  As I stated before, the fish people are people who have been surgically altered to have plastic gills.  Some of the fish people look pretty much like regular people wearing a snorkeling  mask.  This would make sense (well, maybe not the snorkeling mask), since they started out as human.  However, the most memorable of the fish people, and the most prominent ones, are far more ornate.  Maybe Damon, the surgeon, enjoyed arts and crafts in his spare time, because these fish people are covered in large sequins which I can only assume represent scales.  Instead of having the snorkeling mask, they have large, unusual eyes.  There is also a scene that lasts for a few minutes that shows the fish people communicating underwater.  The combination of the strange moves “underwater” (really in a studio attached to wires) and the sparkly, gaudy costumes give the impression that they are a members of a troop performing a water ballet.  It’s completely bizarre, but I find it a bit mesmerizing.

On a less bizarre note, this story finally shows Troughton settling into the role of the Doctor.  He only wears one disguise, and that only for a short time, so he is himself for most of the episode and his personality is really starting to come through.  He is clearly friendlier than Hartnell’s Doctor and is very quick thinking.  Several times in this serial we see the Doctor come up with a plan without having any idea what the result will be (or is that just what he says?).  The impulsive, fly by the seat of his pants quality that is one of the hallmarks of Troughton’s Doctor is clearly being developed in this story.  Another point of interest is the note that the Doctor sends to Zaroff.  He signs it Dr. W, the only time the Doctor seems to imply that Who is, in fact, his surname.

The Doctor's companions: Jamie, Polly, and Ben.

The Doctor’s companions: Jamie, Polly, and Ben.

This story is not a great one for the companions.  Since it was written before Jamie joined the TARDIS crew, Jamie and Ben don’t have a lot to do.  Jamie receives some of Ben’s lines, so his personality isn’t really developed. Due to losing lines to Jamie, Ben’s part is reduced, so he doesn’t get to do too much either.  The companion with the most to do is Polly, who, unfortunately, regresses after really taking charge in “The Highlanders.”  She is clever enough to figure out how to become the voice of Amdo and save the Doctor at one point, but then she is taken in by Zaroff’s faked illness.  Worst of all, she just stands by and screams as Zaroff kills the priest that has been helping them.  It seems like she could have done something, but she doesn’t even try until it is too late and, of course, she becomes Zaroff’s prisoner.   Is “The Highlanders” the only story in which Polly does not need rescuing?

Polly is apparently wearing the native Atlantian shell costume and the Doctor...well, he's dressed as... something.

Polly is apparently wearing the native Atlantian shell costume and the Doctor…well, he’s dressed as… something.

While this is not a great serial, I think it’s an entertaining one.  It has its flaws, but it was a rather hastily put together script.  Rejected at first for being too costly, it was put back into the schedule when another serial fell through.  So basically it’s a story that required a large budget that they tried to do for less.  For being thrown together on a shoestring, they do manage to create a very distinctive world.  It’s story that definitely benefits a great deal from being seen.  As I stated earlier, everything is over the top in this story, and that includes the costumes.  Besides the fish people, you have the very large and unusual headdresses of the priests, the Doctor’s ridiculous disguise, the interesting garb of the women…It’s not one of Doctor Who‘s best, but I think it’s worth a listen/watch.  I may be alone in this, but I’m looking forward to the release of the recently recovered second episode of this story.

Out with the Old, In with the New: The Higlanders

The historical story had been a staple of the Hartnell era.  On a fairly regular basis, the TARDIS crew found themselves stranded somewhere in the past, facing a human, not alien, opponent.  “The Highlanders” is basically the last of this kind of historical (well, there is “Black Orchid” from the Davison era about 15 years later).  It’s not the best of the historicals, but it’s a good one, even though all four episodes are lost.  The Doctor, Ben, and Polly find themselves caught up in the conflict between the English and the Scottish Highlanders in the 18th century.

The Doctor (still wearing his ridiculously tall hat), Ben, Polly after leaving the TARDIS.

The Doctor (still wearing his ridiculously tall hat), Ben, Polly after leaving the TARDIS.

TARDIS materializes on earth and Ben thinks the scenery outside the TARDIS looks familiar.  The Doctor wants to quickly return to the TARDIS and go somewhere else, but Ben, hoping he may finally be back home, heads off to explore.  This results in the trio becoming involved in the Battle of Culloden.  The British forces have won, but, of course, the Doctor and his companions end up falling in with a Scottish Laird, his daughter, Kirsty, his son Alexander (who is soon killed by the British), and his piper, a certain young man named Jamie McCrimmon.

The Doctor, Ben , the Laird, and Jamie are captured by Lt. Ffinch (who is a bit of a coward) and are about the be hanged by his sergeant, when they are instead taken prisoner by Solicitor Grey,  the Royal Commissioner of Prisons.  While they may have escaped the gallows, they are not safe.  Solicitor Grey has his own agenda; he is looking to profit from the conflict by selling the defeated Scots into slavery in the East Indies.  Polly and Kirsty, in the meantime, managed to escape capture, but they must find a way to free their friends before it is too late.

The story is a clever one.  I feel that a large part of the success of the historical stories depends on whether or not the supporting characters are interesting.  In “The Highlanders” the people who the Doctor and his companions meet are very interesting.  There are a lot of characters, but it is easy to distinguish each one because they all have a clear personality.  Kirsty shows a certain amount of spunk as she works with Polly to save her father.  There is the greedy Grey and his weak-willed, cowardly secretary, Perkins.  The trio also meet the rather timid Ffinch and the ruthless Captain Trask.  The rotating cast of characters ensure that the story never drags.  In particular, I enjoyed the storyline of Polly blackmailing Ffinch (because he wouldn’t want to admit that a girl got the better of him).  The initial premise is amusing, but the relationship that develops between the two has a surprising depth to it.

Polly enjoys her control over Ffinch.

Polly enjoys her control over Ffinch.

The braided structure of the story also adds to its strength.  After leaving the TARDIS, the Doctor, Polly, and Ben are gradually separated; each has their own storyline that is ultimately important to the resolution and the cuts between the three ensure that the story keeps moving.  The story is well constructed by Elwyn Jones and Gerry Davis (who was the co-creator of the Cybermen), in that the trio begin the story together, and gradually get separated into their own individual threads.  These threads are then woven back together, leading to the Scottish prisoners being able to overthrow the Captain and the Solicitor.

One consequence of this structure, however, is that the Doctor is not the clear lead of the story.  SInce this was Troughton’s second story as the Doctor, I wondered if this was to let the audience adjust to the new Doctor by placing emphasis on the familiar, his companions, Ben and Polly.   The Doctor is able to get free of his captors relatively early, and is crucial to the resolution since he comes up with the plan to help the prisoners on the ship, but for most of the story he is adopting a disguise of some sort.  He first pretend that he is a German Doctor, Doktor von Wer (which loosely translates to Doctor Who).  Later, he disguises himself as an old woman (and spends a large part of the serial in a dress), and eventually dresses as a wounded British soldier.  This provides a great deal of the comic relief, but it has the Doctor pretending to be someone else for most of his second story, which struck me as an interesting choice so early in his run.  However, this does emphasize the more comedic tone that prevails in the Troughton era.  I can’t image William Hartnell’s Doctor ever choosing to disguise himself as a woman; I think he would consider it beneath his dignity to masquerade as the opposite sex.

The Doctor in his disguise.

The Doctor in his disguise.

The structure does, however, provide a great opportunity for Polly and Ben to move to the forefront.  In an unusual twist, Polly is the only one of the trio not captured in this story.  She is left to fend for herself for a large portion of the story, forcing her to be more than simply a damsel in distress.  In this story, Polly gets to actually use the intelligence that the audience has only caught tiny glimpses of up to this point.  She takes charge with Kirsty and comes up with a way for the two of them to learn what has happened to their friends, while also making an important ally in Ffinch.  I wish there had been more of this Polly in her other stories.  It is still a bit humorous, however, that Polly criticizes Kirsty for getting upset instead of being productive, when that is, unfortunately, all too often what Polly does.

Ben is also given a meatier role than usual.  Ben has had more opportunities than Polly to show off his abilities, but most of the time he is a very underdeveloped character.  In this story, he is given several important opportunities to take action, whether it was gaining the upper hand from the fleeing Scottish rebels in the first episode or his defiance of Grey and Trask by tearing up the slave labor contracts. He proves himself to be loyal to his new friends and very brave.  He faces death more than once in this serial and never backs down.  He is also the first to work out what Grey and Trask have planned for the prisoners.  And, of course, being Ben, he manages to get in a few fights along the way.

This story is probably most notable, however, for being the first story of  Jamie, who ultimately was in more episodes than any other companion.  I’ll admit that I was surprised by how small a part he had in his debut serial, but he was still an interesting character.  I think his part would have felt larger if the episodes could be viewed, since he was present in many scenes, he just was not the main focus.  Even at this early stage, however, he still displays many of the characteristics that come to define Jamie as a companion.  He is alert, helpful, and brave.  He chooses, without being asked, to leave the ship and help the Doctor and his companions get back to the TARDIS.  He realizes that they could not make it back without assistance, which he is happy to provide (with no thought of gaining anything in return).  Still, I’m not sure at this point you would realize that the Doctor has just met his best friend.

The Doctor meets his new companion.

The Doctor meets his new companion.

Overall, I enjoyed “The Highlanders.”  It’s an exciting story that allows for some sorely needed character development from Polly and Ben.  Since I have relatively little background experience with this chapter of history, I can’t judge its historical merits, but the story is a good one.  As a fan of the historical story, I’m sorry to see them go.  Of course, that is the key to Doctor Who‘s longevity: the show is constantly evolving.  With a new Doctor (and partly from Patrick Troughton’s urging) the show left the pure historical behind and I can’t say that the show was the worse for it.  At this point the Troughton era was still taking shape; “The Highlanders” is both a final remnant of the Hartnell era and a shift towards the new tone of the Troughton era.

Entering the Troughton Era: The Power of the Daleks

The era of the “renewed” Doctor (the term regeneration was not yet in use) begins with a bang.  Patrick Troughton’s first adventure as the Doctor, “The Power of the Daleks,” is better than any Hartnell era Dalek story.  With the challenge of introducing a new lead actor to the audience, the show fell on the Doctor’s oldest and most familiar adversary, the Daleks, to help the audience with the transition.


After the Doctor regenerates, greatly confusing Polly and Ben, he dematerializes the TARDIS.  They find themselves in an earth colony on the planet Vulcan (a name that was developed at the same time as, yet independently of, Star Trek) where an examiner from Earth has just been murdered.  The Doctor stumbles upon the scene, and has the dead man’s credentials in his hand when he is attacked and knocked unconscious.  When he comes to, he realizes that he can pass for the examiner and chooses to do so for the time being.

As he investigates at the colony, he soon discovers that the colony’s problems are twofold.  On the one hand, a group of rebels are plotting to overthrow the governor.  They are led by the power-hungry head of security Bragen and the scientist Janley.  The main threat to the colony, however, comes from the mysterious capsule that has been found in the mercury swamps.  Lesterson, who seems to be the chief scientist, and Janley have been studying it.  They open the capsule to find three dormant Daleks inside.

Lesterson cannot destroy the creatures as the Doctor orders, and works to find a way to reanimate them.  He believes that they are controllable and will be useful to the colony.  The Daleks, who still need assistance to regain their power, play along at being the servants of the humans.  Of course, things do not go as planned with the Dalek “servants,” and the two story lines become intertwined as the story progresses.

The Troughton era definitely opens up with a strong episode.  Even at 6 episodes long, “The Power of the Daleks” never drags.  It is peopled with interesting characters, who all have different motives for wanting the Daleks to be “repaired.” The machinations of the different groups keeps you guessing as to what will happen next.  There are enough secret plots to keep you guessing at just who is going to come out on top.

many daleks

What makes this story particularly memorable, however, is the way that David Whitaker uses the Daleks in this story.  I know this is a bit heretical, but I have never been a huge fan of the Daleks.  While certainly iconic, they are often a one-dimensional foe that is simply bent on exterminating others.  They are a powerful enemy, but they are often rather single-minded.  “The Power of the Daleks” features devious, intelligent Daleks.   The viewer knows that the Doctor is right, that the Daleks must be destroyed, but just what their plan is is not immediately evident to the Doctor or the viewer.  Ultimately, this makes the Daleks menacing once again.  They display great intelligence in the way that they exploit the divisions in the colony.  The fact that the Daleks keep reiterating that, “I am your servant,” is unsettling, because the audience knows that the Daleks are anything but the servant of any race. It’s interesting that this story brings back the idea of Daleks needing static electricity for power.  This was a major issue in “The Daleks,” but it didn’t really factor into the other Hartnell era Dalek stories after “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.”

It is a shame that all the episodes to this story were lost because the few clips that remain show some striking images.  The clips that survive of the Dalek assembly line, as well as the congregation of Daleks are both memorable images.  They might rank among the iconic images of the series, if they were ready available.

As I mentioned earlier, this was Patrick Troughton’s first story as the Doctor.  At this point, the Doctor is even more eccentric than he is further into the season.  The Doctor is constantly playing his recorder and wears a rather strange tall hat.  Immediately after the regeneration (sorry, “renewal”), he even refers to himself in the third person, as if he might not actually be the Doctor anymore.  Besides his hobbies and fashion sense, his personality is completely different from Hartnell’s.  The air of superiority and the imposing manner are gone, making him seem like much less of an authority figure.  One can’t help but wonder if the colonists on Vulcan might have taken the warnings of William Hartnell’s Doctor a bit more seriously than the seemingly unfounded panic of Troughton’s Doctor.  He is also far more impulsive and playful.  He gives the impression of enjoying his adventure far more than Hartnell’s Doctor ever did.  Unfortunately, he also appears to have absolutely no idea what he is doing. Of course, that is the big question about Troughton’s Doctor: does he really have no idea what he’s doing or is it all an act? I tend to lean towards the latter, since he always manages to save the day in the end.

The Doctor reads from his 500 year diary.

The Doctor reads from his 500 year diary wearing a rather ridiculous hat.

When it comes to the companions, Ben and Polly, there’s not much to report.  Each is missing from one episode in this story (Polly from the 4th episode and Ben from the 5th), and their characters are still not terribly well-defined.  Ben is very protective of Polly and always up for a fight.  Polly appears intelligent and is a persuasive talker, but she gets herself kidnapped yet again.  Neither she nor Ben (who manages to get kidnapped eventually himself) contribute a great deal to the outcome of the story.

Overall, “The Power of the Daleks” is an excellent story.  It’s engaging and, for once, uses the Daleks in a truly menacing way.  It’s also clear that it was a big influence on Mark Gatiss’ “Victory of the Daleks” in the new series.  They both share the conceit of having Daleks pretending to be working for humans.  Instead of “I am your servant,” the Dalek in “Victory of the Daleks” says, “I am your soldier” with almost the same inflections.  However, “The Power of the Daleks” is superior to the more recent story (and most other Dalek stories).  It conveys an actual sense of danger; you know the Doctor has to save the day somehow, but you have no idea how he is going to do so.  The title even works on many levels.  The Daleks are working to create a power supply, but they are also the ones who are in control (and hence, have the power).  After all, what could be scarier than a devious, calculating Dalek?