“One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”
You thought I’d forgotten about you, didn’t you? Well rest assured, nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, after a few scheduling setbacks (two conventions in as many months will do that to you), we’re back with another installment of ‘All of Time and Space,‘ a column dedicated to each season of the long running BBC series ‘Doctor Who.’ So settle in and join us as we now take a somewhat belated look at the second season of the series.
Originally broadcast from 1964 to 1965, this was a big year for ‘Doctor Who’. With Dalekmania sweeping the United Kingdom, the show’s future was, it seemed, assured. But as Bob Dylan wrote that very year, “the times they are a-changin'”. You see, not only does the show itself continue to come into its own throughout the season, but this year also saw the first of the now regular cast changes that have since become a hallmark of the series. By the time the season ends, the only familiar face (in front of the camera, at least) will be William Hartnell himself. That level of turnover has the potential to be a stumbling block for any show, never mind a low budget sci-fi serial in its sophomore year. Of course, we know the show was ultimately able to weather these changes (and the countless others that have come since), but how did it work at the time? More on that later.
This season holds the distinction of being by far the most complete season that ’60s ‘Who’ has to offer, with only two episodes currently missing from the BBC archive. Better yet, those two episodes belong to the same story (‘The Crusade’). How does it stack up to the series’ freshman year? Read on…
Planet of Giants
Due to a malfunction, the TARDIS doors begin to open before the ship fully materializes. Though he avoids explaining his concerns to Ian and Barbara, the Doctor is obviously rattled, a situation that is only exacerbated when the scanner monitor blows out. Exiting the TARDIS, the travelers split up, Barbara with the Doctor and Ian with Susan. As they explore a maze-like rock formation, the two groups find a number of giant creatures – ants, earthworms, and the like – all dead. As they find more obviously human artifacts, They realize that the TARDIS malfunction caused them to shrink to “roughly the size of an inch.” With this revelation out of the way, we are introduced to Farrow, a government scientist who is meeting with Forester, a businessman, to inform him that the pesticide he has developed (DN6) is too dangerous to be approved. Forester doesn’t take this well and shoots Farrow. Meanwhile, Ian and the Doctor begin to wonder about all dead insects they’ve seen. As they compare notes, the continue to explore their surroundings, and Ian and Barbara climb into a briefcase that carries them indoors. As the drama surrounding DN6 continues to unfold, Forester arranges to dispose of Farrow’s body and strong arms an ambitious scientist into helping him. While the Doctor and Susan make their way inside via a drainpipe, Ian and Barbara find themselves in a laboratory, where Barbara is unwittingly exposed to the DN6 while Ian deduces that the lab is developing a new pesticide. Reunited once again, the travellers set about their business. While Forester schemes to get the DN6 approved, the Doctor comes across the formula for the pesticide and is alarmed to realize just how deadly it is. Barbara passes out, and the others realize what has happened, though the Doctor reassures her that once she returns to her normal size, the amount of poison in her system will be too small to do any harm. After starting a fire to attract attention (leading police to discover Farrow’s body), the crew returns to the TARDIS, where the Doctor is able to restore them to normal.
This is a fun but largely insubstantial story that thankfully comes in at a mere three episodes in length. You might not expect that I’d be grateful for the story’s brevity if I’m enjoying it, but the fact is that there’s not a ton of story here and the industrial espionage side of the plot simply isn’t all that engaging. ‘Planet of Giants’ was originally planned as a four episode story, and frankly even that would have been pushing it. And let’s not kid ourselves. A lot of this story’s fun is very much of the “let’s play with oversized props” variety. Giant props aside, what I appreciated most about this one was its treatment of Susan. As I explained last time, you never quite know what you’re going to get with that character, and with her days on the show now numbered, it’s nice to see her reflect at least some of her considerable potential. In particular, the first episode gives Susan an all too rare opportunity to show off her intelligence, as it cuts between her and the Doctor reaching the same conclusions about their miniaturized states entirely independently. It’s a welcome reminder that while she may have spent much of the first season screaming at the slightest provocation, Susan can be every bit as formidable as her grandfather. Though she does still scream a lot. Unfortunately, Barbara doesn’t fair nearly as well. She’s not handled as badly as she could have been, though her persistent failure to tell Ian she’s been exposed to the pesticide once she realizes what’s happened to her.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth
The TARDIS arrives in London, and though they aren’t sure of the year, Ian and Barbara are thrilled to be home again. Something is amiss though. When a bridge collapses, cutting them off from the TARDIS and causing Susan to twist her ankle, The Doctor and Ian go in search of tools and amidst the decay and abandonment, find a calendar bearing the year 2164. While tending to Susan, Barbara meets a terrified man who urges Barbara hurry along with him for her own safety. She and Susan accompany him to a hideout in an old Underground station where they meet a resistance group, including Tyler, David, and Dortmun. Returning to the TARDIS, Ian and the Doctor are apprehended by the Dalek invaders – revealed to have conquered Earth in the recent past – and taken aboard one of their ships. When the rebels strike, the Doctor is able to escape while Ian is cornered and forced to hide aboard the ship. The rebels are quickly routed, and the Daleks (with Ian in tow) head north to the mines in Bedfordshire. Meanwhile, the scattered rebels try to regroup. While the surviving rebel groups and the TARDIS crew begin to make their way north, Ian reaches the mines and links up with the local resistance. Seeking shelter for the night, Barbara and her traveling companion Jenny are betrayed and captured by the Daleks. Arriving in Bedfordshire with Tyler, David, and Susan, the Doctor scouts the mines and determines that they’re at the center of the Daleks’ operations on Earth. Ian, who has been covertly exploring the mines, attempts to rescue Barbara, but she is taken to a Dalek facility before he can act. While Ian infiltrates the Dalek command center and sabotages their plans, the Doctor’s group makes their way in as well, rescuing Barbara, freeing the slaves, and turning the Robomen (lobotomized human cyborgs used as overseers and enforcers) against their Dalek masters. With the command center destroyed and the Daleks driven offworld, our heroes return to the TARDIS. As the Doctor follows Ian and Barbara into the ship, he notes Susan’s emotional farewell to David (who asks her to stay before the both confess their obvious feelings for each other). When she turns to join her friends, the Doctor announces from inside the TARDIS that he’s locked the doors and that “your future lies with David, and not with a silly old duffer like me.” With that, the Doctor says goodbye to his granddaughter and the TARDIS dematerializes.
My summary hasn’t done this one justice. Not only is it easily the best Dalek story I’ve covered so far, it’s also one of the best stories the show has produced to this point. Not only does it have a more engaging narrative than ‘The Daleks’, it’s also replete with striking imagery, including several unforgettable shots of a deserted, Dalek-occupied London. Indeed, just as the Daleks themselves owe some of their inspiration to the Nazis, the state of London has echoes of the Blitz, something that would have still been relatively fresh in the minds of British audiences in the early 1960s. Oh, and it’s a bloodbath, at least by the standards of ’60s ‘Who’, as Robomen and resistance fighters alike are mowed down in impressive numbers each time the two sides clash.
Of course, I can’t discuss ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ without covering Susan’s departure. This marks the first time a companion has been written out of the series, and the fact that she’s the Doctor’s granddaughter lends it extra weight. That being said, they basically just marry her off, which will become something of a cliche in classic ‘Who’. To be clear, I’m not holding the sins of future storytelling against this one. Quite the contrary. While the story does indulge in a soon-to-be cliche, it handles it better than the show often would in years to come (though admittedly, that may be damning with faint praise). Her relationship with David is given at least some build up through the latter half of the story. Not a huge amount, but enough that her desire to stay doesn’t entirely come out of left field. And all that is to say nothing of her actual departure scene, particularly the Doctor’s farewell speech. It’s one of the most moving moments of the First Doctor era, if not the entire classic series.
Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that the Daleks went to all the trouble of interplanetary conquest so that they could (basically) stick an engine on the Earth and drive it around the cosmos?
Arriving on the planet Dido, the Doctor stays in the TARDIS while Ian and Barbara explore the area. A creature, apparently one of the natives, approaches them. When goes to fetch the Doctor, the creature throws Barbara off a ledge and causes the entrance to the cave in which the TARDIS landed to collapse. While the Doctor and Ian look for a way out of the cave, Barbara is found by Vicki, a survivor of a crashed spaceship who takes her to the ship. Back in the wrecked ship, Vicki and the other survivor, Bennett, are terrorized by the creature – named Koquillion – who insists they remain in the ship and claims to be protecting them from both his people and the new arrivals (the TARDIS crew). Vicki explains that after the crash the crew was murdered by the natives, or so Koquillion told her (she was ill at the time). The Doctor and Ian make their way out of the caves and arrive at the ship. After getting acquainted with Vicki, the Doctor goes to speak with Bennett. Despite hearing Bennett’s voice tell him not to come in, the Doctor forces the door (because of course he does), finding the room deserted. Bennett’s warning to stay out was a recording. He also finds surveillance equipment and a secret passage out of the ship. The Doctor follows the passage to a native ceremonial area. When Koquillion arrives, the Doctor reveals that he has deduced his true identity: Bennett. When confronted, Bennett explains that he killed a crew member prior to the crash and then killed both the remaining crew and the Dido people to cover up the crime. As Bennett and the Doctor brawl, a pair of Dido people arrive and Bennett flees, falling to his death in the process. With the danger past, the Doctor explains the truth to Vicki and invites her to join him in the TARDIS.
Like last season’s ‘The Edge of Destruction’, this is a quickie. It’s a bit more consistent in terms of its pacing and overall storytelling. In fact, between the story’s length and aforementioned consistency, when taken as a whole it plays more like an episode of the modern series (this is also reflected in the Doctor’s behavior, as he simply forces his way into Bennett’s room after hearing a recording telling him to keep out) than any serial to date. Broadly speaking, ‘The Rescue’ exists to do two things. The first is to provide a coda of sorts to Susan’s sendoff in the previous story. This primarily comes in the first episode, which sees the crew coping with Susan’s sudden absence and leads to one of the serial’s most poignant moments as the Doctor catches himself giving Susan directions once the TARDIS lands. While it’s only appropriate given that she was the Doctor’s granddaughter, more time is spent dealing with the void Susan left behind than would become typical for the classic series.
Perhaps more importantly, though, it also serves to introduce Susan’s replacement, Vicki. We’ll deal more with Vicki as the season progresses, of course, but right out of the gate she has great chemistry with each of the other three leads. In many cases, she even seems to have a more naturally grandfatherly relationship with the Doctor than Susan did. Her introductory story presents her as intelligent and compassionate, good traits for a companion. Between this characterization and the strength of her chemistry, she has a great deal of potential. But then so did Susan, and it’s well established how mixed a bag she turned out to be.
We join the Doctor and his companions to find that they’ve been living in the lap of luxury in an ancient Roman villa for the past month. While in town, Barbara and Vicki catch the attention of a pair of slave traders. Meanwhile, a man lurks at the side of the road before attacking and killing a musician. Later that day the Doctor and Vicki embark on a journey to Rome. That night, the slavers attack the villa and make off with Barbara and Ian. On the road, the Doctor finds the dead musician and picks up his lyre. A centurion, who is searching for the musician (who we learn was named Maximus) as he was expected at Nero’s court. Mistaking the Doctor for Maximus, the centurion promises to escort him and Vicki to the court, though we quickly learn that he was involved with the assassination of the real Maximus when he sends the killer to try again. Ian is among a group of slaves sold before leaving the village, though Barbara is bound for Rome, Ian is not. The Doctor fends off the attack and, noting the centurion’s disappearance, begins to put two and two together, pressing on to Rome. Ian is pressed into a rowing crew but is able to escape when the ship sinks, conveniently near Rome. Meanwhile, Barbara arrives in Rome ahead of a slave auction, where she is purchased by a wealthy man named Tavius who promises she will be treated well. Tavius represents Nero, and brings Barbara to serve in the palace. He is soon summoned to meet the Doctor, still posing as Maximus. The Doctor is introduced to Nero and ingratiated himself by playing to the Emperor’s ego. Ian arrives in Rome but is quickly arrested and sent to be trained as a gladiator. The Doctor realizes that Maximus was embroiled in some sort of conspiracy with Tavius and plays along. Nero, meanwhile, plans a banquet at which “Maximus” is to perform and takes a liking to Barbara, which unfortunately places her in Empress Poppaea’s crosshairs. Poppaea attempts to have Barbara poisoned, though Vicki thwarts this by switching the goblets, though this places Nero in danger, from which the Doctor acts to save him. At the banquet, Tavius tells the Doctor that all is in place, and the Doctor then avoids performing by employing a ruse inspired by The Emperor’s New Clothes, the reaction to which leaves Nero wildly jealous. Nero insists on going to the arena, where he arranges to have lions set loose on the Doctor. Before this can happen, there is a fight in which Ian is forced to participate. He loses, but is spared by his opponent, who turns on Nero. Ian attempts to rescue Barbara (who Nero has dragged along with him), but is forced to flee. Barbara informs Tavius of this, including Nero’s intent to use her as bait for Ian. As Poppaea had already demanded that he dismiss her, Tavius agrees to help. Tavius warns the Doctor of Nero’s trap. At this time, he also learns from Tavius that he is meant to kill Nero. The Doctor decides to leave that night, and unwittingly inspires Nero to burn Rome. Ian makes his way into the palace where Tavius takes him to Barbara. As Rome burns, the Doctor and Vicki make their way back to the villa. Ian and Barbara arrive shortly before the others and they all return to the TARDIS.
With ‘The Romans’, we’ve reached the first historical of the season. More importantly, it’s also the first predominantly comedic story in the show’s run. This can feel a bit odd at times, given the subject matter, which sees two of the four leads sold into slavery. Nonetheless, it works, largely on the strength of William Hartnell’s performance. Hartnell has spent so much of the series to date playing the Doctor as a crotchety, sometimes even flat out nasty figure that even with his frequent banter with villains and companions alike it can be easy to forget that he could also play comedy. But that’s not all that sets this one apart. In a fun twist one what is already a well established formula, the first episode wastes no time establishing that rather than arriving in the midst of a crisis, the TARDIS crew has instead been enjoying what has effectively been a month long vacation in Ancient Rome. This unorthodox approach to the show’s formula continues throughout the serial, as the two groups (the Doctor and Vicki on the one hand, Ian and Barbara on the other) proceed through their adventures with neither any the wiser about what the other has been up to, even as they inadvertently save each other’s lives. In summary, ‘The Romans’ is at the end of the day a romp, which it could be argued the show sorely needed at the point (this season alone has seen the aftermath of a Dalek occupation and the scheming of a genocidal madman – sometimes it’s nice to take a break). More than that, it opened up new doors for the program, particularly as concerns its willingness to indulge in comedy (something that Hartnell by all accounts relished). And if that wasn’t enough, it also provides a strong sophomore outing for Vicki, who continues to display great chemistry with the Doctor.
The Web Planet
The TARDIS is dragged down to the surface of an unknown planet by a mysterious force. While the Doctor puzzles at the nature of this force, Vicki briefly faints due to a noise only she can hear. The Doctor and Ian go outside to to look around. Eventually, Barbara is dragged out of the TARDIS in an almost hypnotic state by the same force that trapped them there. Rushing to help her, Ian is caught in a snare and Vicki accidentally dematerializes the TARDIS. The Doctor is able to free Ian and they set off to find Barbara and the ship. Barbara meanwhile, awakens from her trance when a large bee/moth creature (a Menoptra) removes her bracelet and tosses it into a pool of acid. The TARDIS rematerializes and Vicki realizes that it is under the control of ant-like creatures (the Zarbi). The Doctor and Ian, still searching for the TARDIS, are surrounded and captured by the Zarbi. When the doors open, Vicki leaves the TARDIS and is also taken captive by the Zarbi. When Barbara flees the Menoptra, she too is apprehended by the Zarbi, who use her to find the Menoptra. In the Doctor’s efforts to communicate succeed when he is interrogated by a strange, disembodied voice. As the Doctor negotiates with the voice, he learns her whereabouts and when the Zarbi let their guard down, Ian goes after her. On my he way to the Crater of Needles, Ian befriends one of the Menoptra. While toiling in the Crater of Needles, one of the Menoptra explains to Barbara that the Zarbi were once peaceful but have since fallen under the control of an entity called the Animus. The Menoptra invasion force hopes to destroy the Animus and retake the planet with a weapon dubbed to Isop-tope. Ian and his Menoptra friend are taken captive by a group of Optera – subterranean grub-like creatures. Back at the Crater, Barbara is able to effect an escape, alongside a group of Menoptra. While all this is happening, the Doctor and Vicki have no choice but to use equipment from the TARDIS to provide information to the voice – which is in fact the Animus – though they stall as and offer incomplete information to the extent they are able. Ian convinces the Optera to join the fight against the Zarbi as Barbara’s party greets the Menoptra spearhead. The Zarbi and Menoptra fight just as awkwardly as you’re imagining, and the Menoptra spearhead is driven off. In the aftermath, Barbara helps the Menoptra devise a backup plan and the Optera begin leading Ian to the center of the Animus, deep underground. Meanwhile, the Doctor is able to turn one of the Zarbi’s control harnesses against them, taking control of a single Zarbi and allowing himself and Vicki to escape. The Doctor, Vicki, and their tame Zarbi meet up with Barbara’s group, and turn over control of the Zarbi to the Menoptra. They also agree to take the Menoptra weapon into the Zarbi lair, in the hope of destroying the Animus from the inside. Upon returning, however, they are immediately taken prisoner. The Menoptra begin their attack as Ian and the Optera begin to move toward the surface. The Doctor and Vicki are taken to the center of the Animus. Which intends to absorb the into itself and add their intelligence to its own. Making their way through the Zarbi lair, Barbara finds the Menoptra weapon, left behind by the Doctor. They locate the Doctor, but are hypnotized by the Animus before they can act. The Animus is distracted momentarily by Ian’s arrival, however, which allows Barbara the time she needs to kill it and free her friends. With the Animus destroyed, the planet can begin to return to normal and, much to the viewer’s relief, the TARDIS crew departs.
Why do I do this to myself? I love Doctor Who. You don’t make a professional commitment to watch nearly forty seasons of TV if you don’t love the show in question. But this is just rough. Easily the worst story so far. I always go into even the worst Doctor Who serials looking for something to like, and even that is a tall order with ‘The Web Planet’. In the first episode alone, they spend nearly half the runtime wondering why the ship won’t go (and if you read my Star Trek column, you know what I think of that), and the rest wandering around an exterior set that is mostly open floor and a sky backdrop. Yes, even the sets are boring. And not just boring, but there’s a cheapness about them, particularly the exterior sets, in which the “sky” is a particularly obvious backdrop. I try not to pick on rickety sets and cheap effects for a few reasons. For one, it’s just way too easy, but it’s also because I’m doing this in part as a celebration of ‘Doctor Who’. But that doesn’t mean I won’t call them out when they deserve it, and oh boy, does this one have it coming. Perhaps the most bothersome aspect of the scenes on the surface is their fuzziness. It’s as if someone decided to smear Vaseline on the lens. I couldn’t find any documentation of exactly what was done there, whether it was actually Vaseline, some sort of filter, or a trick of exposure, but whatever the case, the intent was obviously to accentuate how utterly alien a world Vortis is. It doesn’t work. I can’t fault them for trying, but the effect ends up being more distracting than anything else.
I’ve talked before about how this era tended to err in favor of longer serials. It’s understandable, inasmuch as that makes it easier to stretch the budget. But it often resulted in four episodes of story being stretched over six. To be blunt, I’m not sure The Web Planet even has four episodes of story. What’s there is tiresome and uninteresting, and it’s stretched over far too many episodes.
The most frustrating thing about ‘The Web Planet’ is that it didn’t have to be this way. At the end of the day, it’s clear that this is a case of the production team’s reach exceeding their grasp. And to be sure, I can’t fault ‘The Web Planet’ for its ambition. They set out to create a completely alien world, and that much they did. The problem is that they tried to do it on their infamously tight budget. No doubt this is why it’s stretched over so many episodes. Six episodes means you have that much more money for sets and costumes. But it’s a moot point when the finished product is such a slog to get through. This is one for the completists and the curious. Otherwise, you’re really not missing anything. Save, perhaps, for the two and a half hours of your life that you’ll never get back.
And to think, in the previous story they were eating ant eggs…
Arriving in twelfth century Jaffa, the travelers are quickly ambushed by Saracens. Though the Doctor and Ian fend off the attack, Barbara is abducted in the confusion. In the wake of the attack, they come across one of King Richard’s men. They treat his wounds and decide to find the King, both to return the man and seek Richard’s help in locating Barbara. I the Saracen camp, Barbara finds herself in the company of William dew Preaux, a companion of the Richard’s who is posing as the King. In order to further the ruse and protect Barbara, William introduces her to their captor El Akir as Richard’s sister Joanna. William’s web of deceit unravels quickly though, when El Akir presents his prisoners to Saphadin and his brother, Saladin. Arriving at the Court, the Doctor, Ian, and Vicki meet the real Richard, who despite his gratitude for their help, refuses to treat with Saladin. He is eventually convinced to change his mind, and asks the Doctor to join him at court. El Akir, meanwhile, plots revenge for his humiliation and absconds with Barbara to Lydda. At court, the Doctor and Vicki befriend the Princess Joanna and after kicking ass and taking names for nearly two seasons, Ian is knighted. Sir Ian is then sent to Saladin’s court, to both request the release of William and Barbara and offer Joanna’s hand in marriage to Saphadin as a means of brokering a peace. In Lydda, Barbara escapes from El Akir, though she is eventually recaptured. King Richard explains his peace overtures to the assembled nobles, prompting a spirited debate between the Doctor and the Earl of Leicester. Soon after, Joanna herself learns of Richard’s plans and is infuriated. This also sets the Doctor briefly at odds with Richard. Following some misadventures involving a group of bandits, Ian is reunited with Barbara, who has once again managed to escape. Richard mends fences with the Doctor on realizing that Leicester is the one who is truly acting against his interests. The Doctor and Vicki then decide to return to the TARDIS, though Leicester (who suspects them of treason) takes this as proof of their guilt. As he prepares to kill the Doctor and Vicki, Ian arrives and tells Leicester that he has a higher claim on the Doctor’s head. Leicester surrenders his prisoners to Ian, and together they return to the TARDIS and depart.
In contrast to ‘The Romans’, this is a fairly standard historical. It’s a somewhat middle of the road story, by no means bad, but I don’t expect it will set your world on fire either. At worst, it still makes for a nice palate cleanser after the tedium of ‘The Web Planet’. The story particularly benefits from the strength of its guest cast, which notably includes appearances by Julian Glover as Richard the Lionheart, and Jean Marsh in the first of her three ‘Doctor Who’ roles. It also has the distinction of being the only story this season to include any missing episodes (the second and fourth parts, to be specific). Fortunately, ‘The Crusade’ is a rather dialog-heavy story, and as such makes for easier viewing than some more action oriented reconstructions. This emphasis on dialogue lends an almost Shakespearan quality to some portions of the story, particularly the scenes in Richard’s court. This includes one of the most memorable scenes in the serial, in which Joanna confronts Richard, vigorously expressing her displeasure with his plans to marry her off as part of a peace deal.
Also of note is that this story was never distributed in the Middle East, presumably out of concerns regarding cultural sensitivity. Despite this, ‘The Crusade’ largely avoids treating its characters – particularly the Muslim cast – in a stereotypical manner. El Akir notwithstanding, they’re generally portrayed as people on opposing sides, but people nonetheless. Indeed, Saladin is often portrayed more favorably than King Richard, which is rather impressive for a British production.
The Space Museum
While landing, the TARDIS jumps a time track. This results in any number of strange occurrences. Vicki breaks a glass that instantly repairs itself. While exploring the museum in which they’ve materialized, they leave no footprints and can neither hear nor be heard by the guards. Soon after, they find the first the TARDIS and then their own bodies in a display. Suddenly, time seems to rewind as the display disappears and guards discover the TARDIS. The Doctor realizes that the timeline has resynchronized and they must now avoid whatever lead their counterparts to end up in that display. Realizing there are intruders, Lobos – the museum’s curator – orders them found before the rebels can locate them. The rebels already know of the intruders and hope to befriend them, seeking aid in their fight against the Moroks (Lobos’s people). The Doctor is captured by the rebels, though he quickly escapes while the others press on in search of an exit. The rebels realize the Doctor had escaped and go to search for him, though he is revealed to have been hiding in an empty Dalek casing that is on display. He is soon recaptured, this time by the Moroks. Ian, Barbara and Vicki finally find the exit, only to discover the TARDIS itself has been captured. The Doctor is interrogated by the Moroks, using a device that displays his thoughts on a monitor. The Doctor is able to focus and confuse the machine, prompting Lobos to order him prepared as an exhibit. The others are captured by Morok guards and are forced to split up as they escape. Lobos decided to flood the museum with a gas that will paralyze the TARDIS crew and the rebels, making them easy targets. Meanwhile, Barbara meets and befriends one of the rebels, Vicki joins a group of rebels and helps to kickstart their revolution, and Ian gets the better of Lobos, who leads him to the Doctor. While rescuing the Doctor , Ian is once again captured. Barbara and Vicki reunite just in time for a guard to capture them. Meanwhile, the rebels begin to overpower the Moroks and Lobos orders a retreat. The travelers are freed by the rebels and return to the TARDIS. As they leave, the rebels give the Doctor a time-space visualizer, which he hopes to set up in the TARDIS. As they leave, we learn they are being monitored by the Daleks, who set in motion a plan to pursue and exterminate the Doctor and his companions…
‘The Space Museum’ is possibly the most frustrating story of the second season. And I don’t mean frustrating in the same way I do when I talk about ‘The Web Planet’, where that frustration stems from the way the show’s ambition outstripped what it could actually achieve. No, this one is frustrating because it starts strong but very quickly descend into utter mediocrity. The first episode is actually quite good. It’s an eerie, unsettling affair, full of ‘Twilight Zone’-ish weirdness. Too bad it’s let down by the other three. Once the time tracks re-synchronize in the second episode, it switches gears, becoming a rote game of characters getting captured, escaping, and getting captured again. Repeat ad nauseum. By this point in the show’s history, this is already a well-worn formula, but ‘The Space Museum’ takes that formula and elevates it to absurd new heights. Seriously, even though the capture/escape game only spans three episodes, you still need a bloody flowchart to keep track of it all!
And let’s take a moment to talk about the rebels! Tactical geniuses that they are, the rebels have the best plan. Because kidnapping people always makes them want to help you. Seriously, they’re the most incompetent rebellion ever. And they only get more incompetent from there. They make more progress in one day of taking advice from Vicki than they have in the entire course of their rebellion so far. I genuinely don’t know who’s more unimpressive, the rebels themselves or the Moroks for being overpowered by this motley crew of idiots.
All that being said, I do rather like the way the serial teases the Daleks, both with the “display model” and the stinger scene. And speaking of which…
Picking up from the end of ‘The Space Museum’, The Doctor is able to get the time-space visualizer working. The Doctor compares the to a “time television”, and to demonstrate allows his companions to essentially channel surf through history. They look in on everything from the Gettysburg Address to a Beatles concert before they’re interrupted by the TARDIS materializing. As they’ve arrived on a desert planet with no obvious trouble, the Doctor and Barbara kick back while Ian and Vicki explore. When Barbara steps back into the TARDIS, she realizes the visualizer has been left on as it reveals the Daleks are tracking them in a time ship of their own. Realizing the Daleks are already on their way, the Doctor and Barbara go in search of Ian and Vicki so that they can leave the planet. With the travelers nowhere to be found, the Daleks leave the TARDIS under guard and begin the hunt in earnest. As the travelers negotiate the hazards of the desert, they run afoul of the locals. Eventually returning to the TARDIS, they distract the guard and take off. The Chase continues across time and space, crossing through locales that include the observation deck of the Empire State Building, the deck of the Mary Celeste, and a theme park haunted house. Eventually, they arrive on the jungle planet Mechanus where they encounter the Mechonoids, robots sent from Earth to prepare the planet for colonists who never arrived. In the Mechonoid city, they meet Steven Taylor, as astronaut who has been held captive by the Mechonoids ever since his ship crashed. the Daleks attack the Mechonoids as the Doctor and his companions flee the city. During the escape, Steven is separated from the others. On the way to the TARDIS, the find the Dalek time machine abandoned. Ian and realize that the machine could easily return them home (in contrast to the notoriously unreliable TARDIS), and decide to take the opportunity. Despite his initial objections, the Doctor shows Ian and Barbara how to operate the ship and they say their farewells. Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor and Vicki use the visualizer to watch their friends’ homecoming and depart.
They’re back! Yes, like I said in my intro, Dalekmania is in full swing, so naturally we were going to be seeing plenty of them this year. While it doesn’t quite live up to either of its predecessors, ‘The Chase’ is nonetheless a worthwhile outing, despite admittedly being a bit formulaic. Loosely speaking, it’s a similar structure to ‘The Keys of Marinus’, only not quite as neatly divided into individual episodes. Nor are its settings, frankly, as memorable as those of ‘Marinus’. But while the story isn’t bad (in fact, it’s often rather fun), the concept is definitely stronger than the execution. This is owed in no small part to uneven pacing and some odd storytelling choices throughout. Case in point, why must we waste so much time on the antics of “comedy” (or “comically oblivious”) Southerner Morton Dill if the Daleks weren’t even going to put him out of our misery? My complaints about Dill notwithstanding, the fact that we spend so much of the third episode lingering on his antics instead of following the TARDIS crew has the effect of robbing the proceedings of any sense of urgency. And worse yet, he’s more obnoxious than funny.
And the existence of Morton Dill isn’t the only questionable choice in the story. The segment aboard the Mary Celeste, for example, is at once an odd tonal decision and arguably the darkest thing the show has done to date. The entire sequence is played for a sort of screwball comedy, even as people are shown leaping overboard. For those unfamiliar, history records that the Mary Celeste was found adrift and abandoned. The fate of her passengers and crew remains unknown. Similarly, I could have done without the Halloween fun house sequence. Or at least without it taking up so much of episode four. In addition to just being weird and unnecessary, the segment also has the dubious distinction of providing Vicki (who to this point has been portrayed as a remarkably intelligent young woman) what is hands down her stupidest moment so far, as she gets herself stranded in the haunted house. Why, you ask? Because she just had to warn the robot Dracula that the Daleks were coming. Why is she so concerned about the robot Dracula’s well being? You’re guess is as good as mine, since the episode itself can’t be bothered to present a compelling case. I guess she just mistook stupid pills for vitamins at breakfast that morning.
If you’ve noticed that the storytelling choices I’m complaining about keep coming back to an attempt to add comedic elements to the story, well, there’s a reason for that. As demonstrated by ‘The Romans’, the show can do comedy quite well. That doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate approach here, where the focus should be on the Daleks hounding our heroes throughout space and time.
And speaking of everyone’s favorite pepper pots, despite this being arguably the least effective Dalek story thus far, by this point they’re clearly coming into their own. As the ideas that worked in their earlier appearances are refined, we are finally starting to see the Daleks presented in a way that is more familiar to a modern audience. For example, while their prior appearances both made references to “extermination”, ‘The Chase’ marks the first time we see the Daleks chant “Exterminate!” as a battle cry. They aren’t quite there yet, but the Doctor’s arch-nemeses are continuing to develop, and even at this early stage it’s not hard to see why their popularity has been so massive and enduring.
And finally, I can’t let this one pass without a mention of the companions. The end of ‘The Chase’ is rather momentous in that it sees the departure of both Ian and Barbara. Not unlike Susan’s departure, theirs is a very bittersweet farewell as despite their fondness for the Doctor, they feel they have no choice but to take what may be a once in a lifetime chance to get home. For his part, the Doctor doesn’t exactly take their decision well. Though he focuses his objections on the dangers involved, the Doctor’s reticence to send Ian and Barbara home on the Dalek ship is clearly more a product of how attached he has grown to them. It hasn’t been that long since Susan left, and now he’s faced with the prospect of his friends leaving as well.
But it’s not all farewells, as the story also introduces us to Steven Taylor. Played by Peter Purves, Steven will assume the mantle of companion more fully in ‘The Time Meddler’, so I won’t spend too much time on him here. When we meet him, Steven is… a bit crazy. At that point, he’s a man who hasn’t seen another person for years, his only real conversation partner in that time being his stuffed panda HiFi. Unusually, Purves also appeared earlier in the serial as none other than Morton Dill. Despite my… distaste for that particular character, it nonetheless works to Purves’ benefit, after a fashion. You see, he’s virtually unrecognizable between the two roles, a fact which extends to his performance. As broadly comic a figure as Dill is, you might expect him to play “Crazy Steven” in a similar manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Dill is grating and tiresome, Steven comes across as eager but eccentric – a natural consequence of years of isolation. Right off the bat, Steven is a likeable figure, even if we don’t really get to know him. Yet…
The Time Meddler
With the TARDIS in flight, the Doctor and Vicki discuss Ian and Barbara’s departure, but interrupted by a clatter as Steven – last seen wandering the jungles of Mechanus – stumbles into the control room. After the escape from the Mechonoid city, he somehow caught up and made his way aboard. As he recovers, the two (mostly Vicki) explain to the skeptical astronaut what has happened and where he is. They land in Northumbria in 1066, on the eve of a Viking attack that preceded the Battle of Hastings. As they explore the area, they are observed by a monk. As they speak to the townspeople, the singing from the monastery begins to sound distorted. The Doctor investigates, and discovers that the singing comes not from a choir, but a record player. The Monk gets the drop on the Doctor and takes him prisoner in the monastery. As the Vikings approach the village, Vicki and Steven search for the Doctor. When they confront the Monk, he plays dumb, though Steven is able to trick him into confirming that he has at least seen the Doctor. While the Monk is away, Vicki and Steven return to search the monastery and discover the Monk’s TARDIS, disguised as a sarcophagus. By this time, the Doctor has already escaped. While Steven and Vicki search the area for the Doctor, he returns to the monastery. The Doctor then confronts the Monk and learns that he is one own people, dubbing him a “time meddler” upon realizing that he interferes with history, often simply for his own amusement. His intent in 1066 is to alter history by annihilating the Viking fleet with an atomic cannon, making it possible for the English to win at Hastings, thus thwarting the Norman invasion. The Doctor is at last reunited with his companions, and with some help from the villagers manages to thwart the Monk’s plans. Before they leave, the Doctor sabotages the dimensional control in the Monk’s TARDIS, both preventing him from entering the ship and stranding him in 1066.
This isn’t the most substantial story, but in this case at least, that’s a good thing. After the after the mini-epic that was ‘The Chase’, ‘The Time Meddler’ presents a more leisurely four part story, giving both the characters and the viewers alike a chance to catch their breath as the seasons draws to a close. In fact, it does perhaps the best job of any story so far of balancing comic relief with a serious plot. That is to say that while there are funny bits in the story, it is decidedly not a comedy serial (contrast this with ‘The Romans’).
What the story is, though, is just a ton of fun, with a lot of great beats sprinkled throughout. Among the highlights are Steven’s initial disbelief regarding the nature of the TARDIS (which covers most of the first episode and culminates in one of the First Doctor’s greatest one-liners). Later in the story, Vicki also gets a chance to redeem herself after the uncharacteristic idiocy she displayed in ‘The Chase’. As the villagers who have taken them captive argue over what to do with her and Steven, she loses her patience and tells the villagers to either let them go or not, but to just make up their minds. It not only works, it culminates in the villagers deciding to trust the travelers, who then make their way to the Monk’s monastery. And speaking of the Monk, he makes for a fun antagonist, and it’s a shame he’s been largely forgotten ever since. Though as far as his fate is concerned, I’m not sure stranding a time meddler in the past is the best solution.
And then there’s Steven. While he was introduced in ‘The Chase’, it’s only here that we begin to get a better sense of who he is an what his place in the TARDIS will be. He’s a fun character, likeably played by Peter Purves. Broadly speaking, he has inherited Ian’s role on the show, which is to say that his job is to be the badass who punches people when the Doctor can’t. He’s also leveled out considerably since leaving Mechanus, rendering him more charming than crazy. It’s never quite explained how he managed to stow away on the TARDIS, though. Don’t they have keys for that?
Its relatively lighthearted nature also belies just how important it is to the overall ‘Doctor Who’ mythos. There are a few reasons for this importance, perhaps the most obvious of which is the Monk himself. Though the name itself wouldn’t be used for another several years, the Monk is the first Time Lord (save, of course, for the Doctor and Susan) that we’ve met. And as a renegade Time Lord, the Monk can even be seen as an early prototype for the Master, presenting a similar concept in a form that is more mischievous than malevolent. ‘The Time Meddler’ also marks the introduction of a style of story that has been dubbed the “pseudo-historical”. In contrast to the “pure historicals”, in which the only science fiction elements are typically the Doctor, his companions, and the TARDIS itself, pseudo-historicals are stories that blend more science fiction elements into a historical setting. So instead of a story in which the Doctor arrives in the past and gets mixed up with actual historical events, you get a story in which he faces a time travelling alien from the future who wants to change human history for funsies. This has since become by far the dominant style of historical storytelling on the series, with only a handful of pure historicals having been produced since the sun set on the 60s. Finally, the TARDIS gets a bit less crowded, with “only” two companions joining the Doctor on his adventures. This has the effect of streamlining the shows storytelling a bit, as they no longer have to find something for four regular cast members to do in every episode, to say nothing of keeping track of their activities. Suffice to say it’s not an accident that the show will rarely feature more than two companions from this point on.
Looking at the season as a whole, the show has come a long way in terms of finding its footing, and to a large extent that’s what this year was about. As the show starts to embrace comedy (or at least comedy that goes beyond the Doctor bantering with his companions) in the wake of ‘The Romans’, everyone involved seems to have settled in a bit more. The writers and producers are getting a better sense of just what the show can be and as a result, are starting to stretch their wings a bit more. For everything that went wrong with the execution, the sheer fact that the show even felt comfortable trying something as out there as ‘The Web Planet’ is a testament to how confident the producers were in the foundation they had created.
And that foundation is certainly tested in front of the camera, as three of the four regular cast members leave the show by the end of the season. And overall, their replacements are successful. Vicki has been a much more consistent character than Susan ever was, at times exhibiting a more grandfatherly chemistry with the Doctor than even Susan displayed. And as for Steven, while we’re only just getting to know him as the curtain falls, he’s certainly off to a strong start. Which brings us to the Doctor. Much of last season’s development on this front had to do with mellowing the Doctor a bit, making him less abrasive and figuring out just what sort of man this mysterious time traveler was. Now that the show has largely figured all that out, Hartnell has evidently grown much more comfortable in the role. And this is more important now than ever. Despite being the title character, there was a stretch of time when the series lead was arguably Ian. But with him gone, it all rests on Hartnell’s shoulders. We’ll get into this a bit more next time, but if ‘The Time Meddler is anything to go by, he’s more than capable of handling the burden.
All of this combines to produces a season that is a good deal stronger than the last. The future is bright for ‘Doctor Who’. I hope you’ll join us next time as our retrospective moves into the third season. And gods willing, it won’t be twice the length of this installment…