Classic Doctor Who Retrospective: Season 6

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Guest contributor Michael Coats continues his series looking back at the classic-era, this time with Season 6.

I’d like to begin this review with an apology. It may not have escaped your notice that whilst this is Part 6, there was never a Part 3, 4 or 5. This is because I tried writing Part 3 and found there simply wasn’t enough content from the surviving episodes in Season 3 to make a satisfactory article. I tried watching reconstructions, however, when I got around to actually having to write for the serial I had been watching, I found I had forgotten most of the subtitles which described what was going on when there were only still pictures on the screen, which isn’t helpful when you’re trying to write about what happened in it. It seems to be much harder to recall what happens from text rather than audio or video.

As a result, rather than cancel them entirely, these parts have been delayed, until after part 26 (for Season 26). This is when I shall listen to the audio recordings of all missing episodes, and a there will also be a feature on the missing stories from 1, 2 and 6. In the meantime, what can I say about Seasons 3-5 apart from: watch The Tenth Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen immediately. Anyhow, this time we’re going to be taking a look at Season 6, featuring the Second Doctor as played by Patrick Troughton and his companions, 18th century Scottish highlander Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) and 21st century astrophysicist Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury).

The Dominators

First up, we have The Dominators. I’m pretty sure that all of you are aware of the the 1980s troubles, given that Doctor Who went off the air for 16 years as a result. What you may not be aware of is this had almost happened 20 years earlier in 1969 (in this case, it was only recommissioned for 1970 because there was nothing to really replace it). In the article, “49 Up!” (which I’ll be coming back to in future retrospectives) published in DWM #449, the probable axe at the time is described as being in part due to ‘a run of considerably over-stretched and underfunded stories’. It shows here, more so than any other story from this season.

It’s not a great story; it’s at least one episode too long (and was originally going to be even longer), The Dominators don’t make for particularly inspiring villains, and the voices of the Quarks are so distorted I often found it difficult to make out what they were saying. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its merits though. The Quarks were pretty decent enemies and the episode would have been better with them as the primary antagonist. It also has one of the funniest endings ever in my opinion (well, while the situation itself isn’t very funny, the way it’s brought to the Doctor’s attention certainly will). In addition, this is the first story to introduce jelly babies to the Whoniverse. New series fans may wish to look out for Arthur Cox as Cully, as he goes on to play Mr Henderson in The Eleventh Hour (the man whose car door Amy shuts the Doctor’s tie in), and currently holds the record for the longest time between appearances in Doctor Who.

The Mind Robber

Next up, we have The Mind Robber. In order to escape the emergency of the previous episode, an emergency TARDIS mechanism is used to take the TARDIS out of normal time and space, outside of reality itself, in fact. What follows are a series of adventures in the Land of Fiction, where a malevolent force is intent on imprisoning the Doctor as the new Master of the Land and using him in order to take over the Earth. As a result of this, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe encounter mythical beasts such the Minotaur, the unicorn and Medusa, as well as receiving help from Lemuel Gulliver and Rapunzel. Jamie also has a new face for a bit! It’s pretty ingenious and very well done. The battle of wits involving fictional characters is probably the best bit, but it’s all very enjoyable.

The Krotons

Skipping over the partly missing The Invasion (unfortunately, given it contains the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier),  we arrive at The Krotons. Whilst being a very strong story, it doesn’t make it into my personal top three for this series, which is indicative of the series’ high quality of stories (the surviving ones at least). But I digress. The titular Krotons are causing a self-perpetuated slavery of a near-human race called the Gond, by pretending that they are their benefactors, despite systematically killing their brightest students under cover of the students becoming ‘companions’ of the Krotons. Obviously, the Gonds discover that all is in fact not well. Notably, the Krotons have a South African accent, something which apparently was Roy Skelton’s idea as a protest against apartheid. Incredible man.

The Seeds of Death

Next up, we have a truly fantastic story, the second best in the series: The Seeds of Death. In this story, set in the late 21st century, the Earth faces a triple threat from invasion by the Ice Warriors, the titular seeds, which are pods which produce a gas that eliminates oxygen, causing instantaneous death if too much is inhaled, and the failure of the T-mat system, a mode of instantaneous travel through materialisation and dematerialisation on which the Earth has become dependant. In a twist of fate, the only hope for the Earth is obsolete rockets and their creator, and the TARDIS crew, naturally.

The War Games

Finally (if we leave out the not-fully-intact The Space Pirates), we have The War Games. For me, this is one of the classics, I don’t care what anyone else says; and despite being 10 episodes long, it justifies itself perfectly. There is something special about this serial right from the off, as it announces itself with its own special intro, with flashing, huge, threatening text. Something that was very well done. The serial is however, the victim of a cruel irony. Episode 8 is probably one of the most important in the show’s history (I’ll get to that in a minute), however, it was, until Episode 1 of Battlefield 20 years later, the lowest watched episode in the show’s history, with a pathetic 3.5 million viewers. The story also features Troughton’s son David (who would later appear as King Peladon in The Curse of Peladon and Winfold Hobbes in Midnight) in the minor speaking role of Private Moor.

As for the story itself, it starts with the Doctor and companions landing in World War One, or what appears at first to be WW1. What they eventually find out is that they are on a planet hosting the eponymous War Games, with humans drawn from various wars in history into zones which look like the wars they came from in order to decide the best warriors. The Doctor, companions and members of the resistance who have become aware that all is not as it seems are drawn into battle with The War Lord (expertly played by the late Philip Madoc), The Security Chief and their people, as well as a renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief helping them (though he has plans of his own). For once though, this is an issue too big for the Doctor to deal with on his own and is forced to bring in The Time Lords (who are first named in this serial and the Doctor described as a fugitive of in Episode 8).

After a brief attempt at escape, the Doctor is forced to land the TARDIS on Gallifrey, where he is charged with breaking the Time Lords’ main law of non-intervention, and found guilty, though the Time Lords do accept in part his plea that sometimes evil in the universe must be first. He is sentenced to exile on Earth in 1970 in a newly regenerated body, with the secret of the TARDIS taken from him until the Time Lords decide otherwise. They also return Jamie and Zoe to their respective timezones with only the memories of their first adventures with the Doctor (in this case to ease the pain of being separated from him), something which will give fans of Donna Noble an uncomfortable jolt, and it is just as poignant. I’ll give the Season 6B theory a mention later, where it’s more relevant), but I’ll give the Doctor’s memorable quote from his spirited defence at his trial here:

“All these evils I have fought, while you have done nothing but observe! True, I am guilty of interference. Just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!”

Now, before I move onto the Jon Pertwee (who isn’t actually present at the end) it’s time to analyse the series regulars, starting with the Second Doctor as played by Patrick Troughton. People who know me will be well aware that Matt Smith’s Doctor is my favourite, and perhaps due to the closeness in characterisation between the two, Patrick Troughton is now my second favourite (he even had the bowtie first!) The way he plays the Doctor is simply superb, especially his skill in arguing. He argues his way out of situations he simply shouldn’t ought to. In one memorable scene in The War Games, the Doctor, an escapee, manages to convince the army officer in charge of a military prison where Jamie is being held that he is a minister from Whitehall conducting inspection, purely from the conviction with which he shouts at the man. He also manages to convince the Time Lords that they are at least partly wrong on their non- intervention policy, which is no mean feat.

As for the companions, Jamie is a cut above. He isn’t that much different from Ian Chesterton or Rory Williams in terms of what he does, but it’s where he comes from that makes him remarkable. Despite being a Scottish Highlander from the 18th Century, Jamie learns incredibly quickly, and despite sometimes being teased about his intelligence by both the Doctor and Zoe, it is often Jamie who points out the danger that they are in. He also makes me laugh when he responds to things he doesn’t really understand with a nonchalant ‘Oh, aye.’ He also wears a kilt, which is… interesting (and female fanservice, I shouldn’t wonder). However, Zoe should not be forgotten, as she is a fantastic example of foresight on the writers, given that she’s practically indistinguishable from a genuine 21st century woman: highly intelligent and outspoken. Like the Doctor, she’s also inquisitive and impetuous, traits always good for a companion, as well as being cool in a crisis. Both companions have gone straight into my personal top 5, which is very high praise indeed.

I think it’s appropriate to end on the Doctor and Zoe’s goodbye to each other: “Will we ever meet again?’ ‘Again? Zoe, you know that time is relative.”