Reviews and reflections on the serials and reconstructions of the fifth season of Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton’s second season. These reviews contain spoilers, in some cases massive ones.
I: Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)
Director: Morris Barry. Writers: Kit Pedler, Gerry Davis. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, George Pastell, Shirley Cooklin, Roy Stewart, Aubrey Richards.
Four part serial forming the first story of Doctor Who’s fifth season.
The Second Doctor (Troughton) and his companions Victoria (Watling) and Jamie (Hines) inadvertently become part of an archeological expedition to a planet where a group of the Doctor’s enemies the Cybermen froze themselves centuries ago. Two members of the expedition have more ambitious plans than just collecting data.
As of this writing, “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is the oldest of Troughton’s Doctor Who serials to exist in complete form, and it is rather an interesting one, although it can hardly be called great.
The story is fairly solid at its core: nefarious Klieg (Pastell) and Kaftan (Cooklin) wish to revive and take control of the Cybermen in order to rule Earth, whereas the Cybermen will of course do what the Cybermen do, which means there’s little room in their plans for megalomaniacal humans. This is a workable plot, but there’s not much to differentiate it from other Cybermen stories previously or later. It does introduce the Cyber Controller and the Cybermats, creatures that would make several return appearances, but otherwise the serial keeps going in circles, with Klieg and Kaftan being tricked by the Cybermen, then trying to come up with a new way of controlling them and around and round it goes. For such a comparatively short tale it’s remarkably short of ideas.
Equally remarkable is just how singularly ineffectual the Doctor is right up until the final moments of the last episode. He barely does anything apart from wringing his hands, which is a shame, since Troughton is quite a gem (in this role and others) and the main attraction here. He does have a beautiful conversation with Victoria about love and the loss of dear ones, ending in a little speech that is quite touching, but that is just about the only real character moment he gets.
This is partly due to the fact that things keep happening, which is of course good. Though sometimes repetitive, “The Tomb of the Cybermen” never walks when it can run, and has a rather pleasing structure, where the first two episodes are filled with exploration and foreboding and the last two are all action.
The Cybermen and Cybermats look like something cobbled together from leftover scraps found on the BBC workshop’s floor, and the sets are limited to only two major spaces. Two things do stand out on the visual side, though: the honeycomb structure of the title tombs as the Cybermen break out of them, and the smoke billowing from people shot with Cyber guns. Incidentally, the Cybermen have had several different voices over the years, but one thing they have in common is that they’re all close to unintelligible.
Some of the acting is terrible and some of it is bland, but reliable old Pastell provides sturdy support as yet another shifty bastard. Hines and Watling seem competent enough, but don’t get much chance to show off their skill.
“The Tomb of the Cybermen” delivers on the entertainment, but is light on plot and heavy on repetition. Very competently directed and shot, however.
Rating: 5 of 10.
II: The Abominable Snowmen (1967)
Director: Gerald Blake. Writers: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Deborah Watling, Frazer Hines, Jack Watling, Wolfe Morris, Charles Morgan, Norman Jones.
Six part serial forming the second story of Doctor Who’s fifth season.
The Doctor goes to the Himalayas to return a sacred bell to a monastery, and arrives just in time to be accused of murder and attacked by the Yeti, creatures whom the monks claim have always been shy and reclusive. Is it just the Doctor’s face, or is there something else riling them up?
Due to ill-advised purges of the BBC archive in the 1970’s, ninety-seven episodes of Doctor Who are lost, five of those belonging to “The Abominable Snowmen”. There is, however, complete audio, and using this and a number of stills reconstructions have been made of the missing episodes, giving us at least an idea of what they were like. Nevertheless, because of the incomplete nature of this story, I’m not going to give it a rating or claim to have a definite opinion as to its quality.
“The Abominable Snowmen” certainly seems good enough. The Tibetan setting and the relative moral and psychological complexity of several characters create solid ground upon which the plot can unfold.
Professor Travers (Jack Watling), for instance, is initially a monomaniacal bad guy, but slowly shows himself to be a rather reasonable human being underneath it all, and the leader of the monastery’s warriors, Khrisong (Jones), also has much more going on than the single-mindedly violence prone side he shows at first.
This serial marks the first appearance of recurring villain The Great Intelligence. While this is of course a special occasion, it must be said that his name is rather misleading and that he has always been the most rubbish of arch nemeses. If you want to conquer the world, for instance, is Tibet really the best place to set up shop? Then there are his choices of henchmen. The re-introduction of The Great Intelligence in the 21st Century revival of Doctor Who had him use actual snowmen made of, yes, snow, and his 1960’s goons weren’t that much better: the furry snowmen of the title are mindless robots who happily stand by while the Doctor removes their power source from their chest cavity, and design-wise they’re even worse, looking like fluffy children’s toys with their cuddly fur, jolly paunch and short little legs.
“The Abominable Snowmen” does well in terms of plotting, where it’s tolerably intricate yet at all times lucid, and in its presentation of the villain who, rubbish as he may be, is given an impressive voice and ultimately a disturbing physical manifestation. Is this one of the great Doctor Who serials? Who knows? My impression is that it must have been more than acceptable and probably quite good.
Rating: I won’t rate a fragmentary experience such as this, but at a guess “The Abominable Snowmen” would most likely land somewhere from 5 to 7 of 10.
III: The Ice Warriors (1967)
Director: Derek Martinus. Writer: Brian Hayles. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Peter Sallis, Peter Barkworth, Wendy Gifford, Bernard Bresslaw.
Six part serial forming the third story of Doctor Who’s fifth season.
In the Earth’s future, an ionizer is tested in the hopes of halting the glaciers of a new ice age. Near the base where the tests take place, a figure is found frozen in the ice, and when it’s thawed out it proves to be an alien Ice Warrior of inclement disposition.
Like the preceding serial “The Abominable Snowmen”, this one got a swipe of the axe when the BBC decided to clean out their archives in the 1970’s, but “The Ice Warriors” is missing only episodes 2 and 3, which have been combined into a very nice reconstruction with stills, audio from the episodes and a speaker voice. Thus, I feel I can safely evaluate this serial as if it had been complete.
“The Ice Warriors” looks promising at the outset, with the premise of humanity struggling against the oncoming ice age, the isolated base, a couple of interesting characters and the brand new monsters (who have made several return appearances since). Despite all this, it’s slow as a glacier, because little is added to these main building blocks. In order to make a fairly simple story like this work over two and a half hours, you need lots and lots of complementary ideas to provide surprises and new directions, but “The Ice Warriors”, like many other longer Doctor Who serials, just presents the basic situation and then plods along to its inevitable conclusion. I tend to say this a lot, but it holds true for this story too: it would have worked better at four episodes.
The human culture facing a freezing Earth has its points of interest (as well as a dreadful fashion sense), dependent as it is on the calculations and decisions of the World Computer, giving the tale a pleasing satirical backbone as it shows the dangers of overconfidence in the infallibility of technology.
The leader at the base, Clent (Barkworth), is an entertaining embodiment of such beliefs, a choleric but multifaceted character who remains unpredictable throughout, giving “The Ice Warriors” much of what spark it possesses. Renegade scientist Penley (Sallis) also possesses unsuspected depths and qualitites, but it is somewhat strange that Clent and Penley get so many opportunities to shine and capture the audience when the Doctor and his two companions have limited screen time and seem to do precious little up until the final episode.
The Ice Warriors themselves look funny from a bit of a distance: turtle-like shells, what someone described as “Lego hands”, and quite the pair of buttocks, but in close-up they’re actually uncanny, their moving, leathery mouths speaking in reptilian hisses and their helmets acting as masks concealing most of their faces. Though little is made of it in the story, one also gets the faint impression that these creatures, under other circumstances, perhaps aren’t evil after all; here they’re reacting to a critical situation, trying to save their ship before it’s too late, and consequently they behave as ruthlessly as circumstances demand. In less desperate straits, they may be less disagreeable. I wouldn’t have them over for tea, but Daleks they’re not.
“The Ice Warriors” has some action, but the most interesting physical events aren’t really shown, since there is of course no way the Doctor Who budget in 1967 would stretch to melting glaciers, bombardments or large spaceships. So it all remains rather claustrophobic and limited to two or three sets, none of which is among the show’s more memorable ones.
A light-weight story of some interest is painfully elongated to fill too many episodes, resulting in boredom that could have been easily avoided.
Rating: 4 of 10.
IV: The Enemy of the World (1968)
Director: Barry Letts. Writer: David Whitaker. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Bill Kerr, Mary Peach, Colin Douglas, George Pravda, Carmen Munroe, David Nettheim, Milton Johns.
Six part serial forming the fourth story of Doctor Who’s fifth season.
Thought lost save for one episode, a complete print of “The Enemy of the World” was finally discovered in Nigeria in 2013.
In 2018, popular politician Salamander (Troughton) is secretly vying for world domination with the aid of artificially created natural disasters. When the Doctor turns up and proves to be a dead ringer for Salamander, the resistance decides to make use of him in their fight against the would-be dictator.
Relatively low on science fiction elements as it may be (this is one of few post-Hartnell stories to feature no aliens apart from the Doctor himself), “The Enemy of the World” feels like a welcome change of pace. It plays like a silly but compelling political thriller of the era, and it maintains efficient speed from beginning to end. This is largely thanks to the fact that at the approximate point where most longer Doctor Who serials run out of steam, this one throws a completely new and unexpected plot twist into the mix, thereby introducing a mystery that carries the story along to its conclusion. This mystery’s solution might be a little “meh”, but at least an effort was made to keep the tale alive past its midpoint.
All the scheming and double-dealing is interesting, and at least a couple of characters aren’t what they at first seem to be, which makes for some excitement along the lines of “who to trust, who has a hidden, nefarious agenda?”. The plotting of this cloak and dagger stuff isn’t half bad, even though it’s striking just how many sinister chiefs of police the Doctor has managed to charm over the course of his career. Several actors get a chance to sink their teeth into the conspiracy material, and among the supporting cast, Carmen Munroe stands out as Salamander’s disgruntled servant who reveals a ferocious side hiding beneath her serene exterior. Hines for once has a few things to do in the early episodes, whereas Watling’s character is, as always, utterly useless. Why does the Doctor insist on dragging her around? Because he hasn’t met Elisabeth Sladen yet?
The real attraction of “The Enemy of the World”, however, is seeing Troughton playing the unambiguously evil Salamander, complete with a shoe polish tan and a Mexican accent that seems to have been imported via Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian home town. Having the Doctor impersonating him pleasantly complicates things, but it’s really just lots of fun watching Troughton do his thing. Fake accent notwithstanding, he does convincingly pull off two very distinct personalities and provides much entertainment doing so.
There’s a lot of action, and the story’s climax shows some exciting flair. The 2018 world the Doctor visits shows little resemblance to the 2014 world in which this review is written, and is in fact eerily similar to 1968 or so. Still, it’s fascinating to see a Doctor Who story taking place in the future and yet in a recognizable, comparatively low tech environment. Hovercraft and helicopters are something you seldom see on Doctor Who, and the use of them here, plus some well-utilised stock footage of erupting volcanoes and the like help give a slightly more epic visual scope than we’re used to.
In many ways preposterous even by Doctor Who standards, “The Enemy of the World” is still a great ride of action, acting, intrigue and restrained sci fi components. Much underrated.
Rating: 7 of 10.
V: The Web of Fear (1968)
Director: Douglas Camfield. Writers: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Nicholas Courtney, Jack Woolgar, Jack Watling, Tina Packer.
Six part serial forming the fifth story of Doctor Who’s fifth season. This review contains spoilers.
The TARDIS is mysteriously captured and resolutely planted in the London Underground, where a web-like fungus infection is spreading and the Doctor’s previously encountered enemies the Yeti abound. A few military men and Yeti expert Travers (Jack Watling) and his daughter are trying to deal with the situation.
All but one episode of this serial were thought lost, but luck favours the clueless: I came stumbling into my Doctor Who phase just when four more episodes had been discovered in Nigeria, so I was right on time to get to see it almost complete. The one episode still missing has, as always, been reconstructed using audio, text and stills, and it is in fact the best and most lucid reconstruction I’ve seen thus far.
Over to the serial itself, then. As usual with old school Doctor Who, the longer serials like “The Web of Fear” would have been better served by being an episode or two shorter, but this is still an excellent concoction that brings plenty of variation to the seemingly limited ideas.
Virtually all of “The Web of Fear” is set in the Underground, whose tunnels were lovingly recreated to the point that the BBC came under suspicion of having filmed in the real ones illicitly at night. This kind of milieu lends itself to creepiness, of course (I can recommend the excellent 1970’s horror film Raw Meat, which is also deals with the London Underground), and this fact is made good use of: the web fungus and its slightly different, incandescent and pulsating variety are eerie, as is the electronic map of the tube system showing the contamination spreading.
Even the Yeti are scarier here than they were in “The Abominable Snowmen”, and look like they’ve been working out and going on a healthier diet, since they’ve lost their amusing, bouncy paunch since last we saw them. Their “faces” also look better, the addition of large, luminous eyes making them appear less like walking fur rugs.
The story to go with this visual entertainment is relatively basic: the Great Intelligence is once more using his Yeti to further some fairly nebulous scheme having to do with the Doctor personally, and the Doctor and his friends and allies need to find out who among themselves is possessed by the Intelligence and thwart him, whatever it is he’s up to. The style of the tale gives a lot of leeway for the Doctor’s cleverness and electronics expertise, which is always good, since it’s such a big part of what makes him who he is. Due to unsubtle scripting, the identity of the Intelligence’s host body is evident quite early on, but that doesn’t lessen the fun of the ongoing game of his action versus the Doctor’s counter-action.
Speaking of action, in a different sense, there’s quite a bit of it in “The Web of Fear”, one episode featuring a major shootout that provides a good injection of excitement while also cementing the toughness and coolness of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Courtney). This character, who became a long-running ally to several of the Doctors, makes his first appearance here, smooth and professional, having an immediate impact.
Among the other actors, Jack Woolgar must be singled out for his superb turn as Staff Sergeant Arnold. There’s a lot to Arnold: loyalty, authority, working class background, fearlessness, steadfastness, empathy and so on, some of which is in the script, but most of which is brought forth by Woolgar himself to piece together an impressively fleshed out character. Amazing work.
“The Web of Fear” has tension, action, nice sets, decent effects and fine acting, and a story that’s good enough to support these elements. Thoroughly enjoyable bit of Who.
Rating: 7 of 10.
Jack Woolgar: unsung master of acting.
VI: Fury from the Deep (1968)
Director: Hugh David. Writer: Victor Pemberton. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Deborah Watling, Frazer Hines, Victor Maddern, Roy Spencer, John Abineri.
Six part serial forming the sixth story of Doctor Who’s fifth season.
The Doctor and his companions find fresh trouble in a gas pumping operation by the sea, where an improbable threat arises from the ocean foam and seaweed.
The people who have created the reconstructions of lost Doctor Who episodes should be crowned with laurels and carried into the nearest pub, there to be properly toasted and celebrated. Even so, it is rather tedious work making one’s way through an entire six part serial when all you get is audio, stills and some explanatory text. In the case of “Fury from the Deep” some snippets of moving images remain (ironically the parts censored by Australian TV), but those amount to maybe one minute out of the original 150 minute running time. Tedium aside, it’s impossible on the basis of these scant materials to shape a proper opinion of the serial as it was originally broadcast, which is why I won’t call this a review or put an exact rating on it. Opinions, however, I do have.
“Fury from the Deep” appears in many ways to be rather unremarkable. It’s yet another one of those “base under attack” stories where some kind of isolated business or project gets threatened by weird critters, and as such it feels like a quick rehash in a lukewarm pan of yesterday’s leftover plot elements. Humans being mind controlled? Check. Beings intent on conquering the world? Check. Weird stuff oozing from doorways and such, causing harm? Yes, didn’t we just see that in the previous serial “The Web of Fear”?
What little originality there is can be found in the coastal setting and the maritime nature of the hostile entities. It would of course have been nice if the Doctor Who budget could have been stretched to an actual underwater scene or two, but oh well. By all appearances there was some sort of fairly ambitious helicopter scene in the final episode, but it’s hard to tell just how exciting (or not) it was.
The unnerving attack mode of the controlled humans, as well as the botanical nature of the monsters foreshadows the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers while funnily enough not being very reminiscent of the novel or the 1956 movie. That’s about as scary as it gets, though, since I have a hard time seeing how anything frightening can be made of having a monster wading towards you in a slurry of ocean foam, as if he’s inviting you into his aromatic bath.
Like the story elements (yes, the Doctor finally discovers the weeds’ idiotic weakness), the characters also feel like they’ve been dusted off from previous Doctor Who stories: there’s the rabid and unreasonable boss (Maddern), a couple of voices of reason and the obligatory vapid woman who’s quickly victimized.
While on the subject of bland females, this is the final story to feature Victoria (Watling), who finally realises that travelling with the Doctor is not for her and her delicate nerves. After half a dozen serials of being completely and utterly useless, it’s as much of a relief to the viewer as to her that she gets to wave bye bye. On the other hand, the first episode of “Fury from the Deep” introduces another divisive part of Who lore: the sonic screwdriver.
Salty breezes and sturdy gas rigs notwithstanding, “Fury from the Deep” doesn’t appear to me to be a particularly noteworthy Doctor Who serial, rather one that’s running on empty in the innovation department. But maybe it was awesome beyond belief. Perhaps we’ll know one day.
Rating: I won’t rate this in any definite way, but I’d expect “Fury from the Deep” to warrant perhaps a 4 or 5 of 10.
8 mm footage captured on set and used in the reconstruction.
VII: The Wheel in Space (1968)
Director: Tristan DeVere Cole. Writer: David Whitaker, based on a story by Kit Pedler. Starring: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Michael Turner, Anne Ridler.
Six part serial forming the seventh and last story of Doctor Who’s fifth season.
Following difficulties aboard a strangely abandoned rocket drifting through space, The Doctor and Jamie end up on an Earth space station upon which some outside force has reprehensible designs.
“The Wheel in Space” only has two intact episodes, with the rest represented by singularly confusing reconstructions, so I won’t be giving it a definite rating.
I always find it promising and exciting when a Doctor Who serial takes its time with the build-up and introduces a tantalizing mystery. The first two episodes of “The Wheel in Space” do it rather beautifully, especially the first one (what little one can glean from the reconstruction), which seems quite eerie and enigmatic.
Unfortunately, the answer to the questions posed in these early parts of the story is: “Oh, it’s just the Cybermen. Again”. And exceptionally ineffective and ineffectual they are. Not only does familiarity breed contempt (it’s the second time they show up this season), in the end their convoluted plan turns out to be a piping hot shovelful of bollocks. They also evince a new, very convenient weakness and prove themselves incapable of building a spaceship that can 1) survive a single blast from a laser weapon, and 2) locate Earth even when the planet is right there in front of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Cybermen portrayed as such utter halfwits, and that’s of course entertaining in its own completely unintentional way.
The science spouted in this serial has an unusually low claptrap quota for Doctor Who, which is possibly because Kit Pedler was an actual scientist, but the uses to which said science is put in the script is, as always, quite iffy. Even more questionable is the serial itself. Like I just got through saying, the Cybermen and their plan are rubbish, and the plot is just another variation on the siege theme that this season runs into the ground, and the guest characters are as stock as they come: a couple of lovey dovey crewmembers/scientists, a Voice of Reason and the ever-present rabid boss (Turner). Is it a job requirement for any command or executive position in the Doctor Who universe to have severe anger management issues?
There is one new character, Zoe (Padbury), who stands out as the logical (Spock-like if you will) girl who comes to realise she’s been missing out by neglecting her emotions. She’s a good, potentially interesting character, and it comes as no surprise that she becomes the Doctor’s new companion; she’s certainly an upgrade over whimpering Victoria of the earlier serials of the season.
Troughton is fun too, of course, with his excitable, fussy, bundle-of-nerves interpretation of the Doctor, but as usual he doesn’t spring into action until the end of the story.
Despite some excitement and psychedelic effects in the last episode, I doubt very much that “The Wheel in Space” would be much of a prize if it were to be found in its entirety. Trite, plodding and giving off a feeling of “been there, done that”, it’s not a great ending to season 5.
Rating: Very doubtful this one would get more than 3 or maybe 4 out of 10 from me.
Serials that are too long and often too similar to one another plague this season, not to mention all the lost episodes. Troughton is good value as the Doctor, but is given too little to do, often in inferior material. Since I’ve seen so much of this season only in the form of reconstructions, I won’t bother with an overall rating.