Exploring the Most Gothic Era Of Doctor Who
Guest contributor Samuel Harper examines the Gothic era of Doctor Who.
In the mid-1970s, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes took a bold leap and completed Doctor Who’s transformation. They changed the style and tone of the stories, instead of the more ‘modern’ take on the show, as overseen by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, where the series reflected on many contemporary and social concerns and made the modern everyday scary. Hinchcliffe and Holmes changed all that. In their reign of ‘Gothic Who’ they ensured Doctor Who’s future by giving it a bold and exciting new take.
In Seasons 13-14, the show was redefined. The Doctor was now an alien wanderer exploring the deep realms of outer space as opposed to the patriarchal Earthbound James Bond-esque Third Doctor. The stories became much darker and gorier, with ideas and influences that were based on elements found in gothic stories.
Season 13 kicks off with Terror of the Zygons. The gothic elements make themselves known with such stereotypes including body horror, obviously in the shape (pun not intended) of the shape-shifting Zygons, and also barmen claiming to possess second sight. The story offers some juxtaposition of the settings: a pub, an old classical location – the moors, an alien spaceship and of course, the old castle upon the moor linking to the Zygon ship and via extension: the pub (where the spaceship was being monitored.)
With the next serial Planet of Evil, you have the fantastic location of the alien jungle, fulfilling the ‘primeval frontier’; surely one of Doctor Who’s best sets ever? And the effect Professor Sorenson’s experiments have on him, him becoming a victim of his own discovery, referencing The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
In Pyramids of Mars, the gothic elements make themselves more prominent, as we have the duality of the Scarman brothers as well as Marcus Scarman being possessed by Sutekh.
The following story, The Android Invasion, doesn’t feature as many elements of Goth, although we do have the torturing of the hero – the Doctor, a staple in gothic stories, and of course the theme of doppelgangers and the lack of identity.
The fifth story of Season 13, The Brain of Morbius, borrows heavy elements from Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, Morbius being recreated from different body by an insane scientist. In this story the violent nature of gothic tales make themselves far more prominent with decapitation, strangulation, blood-splatter from gunshots, and the Doctor and Sarah getting tortured and blinded, respectively.
The final story of Season 13, The Seeds of Doom, features the horror transformation of man to monster, with the Krynoid victims. We see the developing stages of the victim slowly losing their humanity bit by bit.
Season 14’s opener, The Masque of Mandragora, features a classic gothic location, crypts and alien possession once again.
Sarah Jane’s last story, The Hand of Fear, sees familiar concepts in Doctor Who being used again to a greater extent; possession, torture and hunting. Sarah Jane being possessed by Eldrad and the Doctor getting tortured by the overlord.
The Deadly Assassin, the story where the Doctor goes solo in a world of repression, a crumbling society, with senility and decline. Torture is used heavily in this story: the Doctor getting tortured in the Matrix and by Gallifreyan guards. Everything within the Matrix could be viewed as a nightmare, a haunting. Famously, the torture scenes in Part 3 in the Matrix attracted the attention of Mary Whitehouse where the Doctor almost drowns. She criticised the show’s use of violence and claimed it was ‘frightening’ for the children.
Leela’s debut in The Face of Evil explores self and mimicry. Both stories looking at the consequences of godhood and hauntings, with the Doctor being God and feared upon by everyone in Leela’s tribe.
In The Robots of Death, Taren Capel plays the role of God this time and haunts his fellow crewmembers through his automaton. Both Face and Robots make use of the remote location under attack from an unknown force, in which the technology, ie, the robots, is fighting back.
The final story of Season 14, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, is essentially a gothic tale. The Doctor is dressed like Sherlock Holmes, with Leela being portrayed as a femme fatale. Other gothic elements include the masked figure, which in this is case is Magnus Greel, the two sidekicks in the story and the universally popular Jago and Litefoot.
To round up, we can see how much goth culture influenced Seasons 13-14. The stories are so rich and vivid and full of imagination. With the departure of Philip Hichcliffe at the end of Season 14, Doctor Who’s genre mix declined, although some later stories did continue to use goth as a basis for the story for example: State of Decay and Black Orchid.
I do hope you enjoyed reading this article and please leave your thoughts in the comments below.