Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Troughton’

John Gould’s In the Dark is one of those episodes that starts off looking like it’s going to be about one thing but ends up concerning itself with something completely different. It begins with two men going swimming in the sea off the coast of Ireland, only for them to suffer swift, mysterious, and clearly unpleasant deaths. What could be going on?

Well, Ridge is on the case and he quickly concludes that the dead men were exposed to mustard gas – a ship carrying chemical weapons to be dumped sank in roughly the same area many years earlier, it’s just a question of where. It seems obvious that the best person to ask is the former captain of the vessel, Lyon McArthur, who in addition to being an ex-naval officer is also a captain of industry and brilliant scientist. He’s also an old friend of Quist’s.

However, McArthur is a difficult man to get hold of, apparently living in great seclusion in a remote part of Scotland. He has virtually no contact with the outside world, to the extent that rumours have begun to spread that he has in fact died. A press conference to dispel these rumours, with McArthur turning up in person, turns out to be a sham, employing a lookalike. Is he really dead after all?

Well, that’s a question of semantics, perhaps. Quist, Chantry, and Ridge manage to get access to McArthur’s Scottish estate and make a startling discovery. Several years ago, McArthur was diagnosed with ascending myelitis, a condition in which the nervous system gradually ceases to work. He should be dead, but he is hooked up to machines which have taken over the functions of his vital organs, allowing his brain to keep going even though his body has failed. McArthur and his team are certain he can survive indefinitely, and he is quite happy to go on as (as he sees it) a being of pure intellect, having shed his emotional and physical concerns, but Quist and the others, inevitably, have doubts. The disease has not been cured, for one thing, and McArthur will inevitably lose both his vision and his power of speech. At what point does human life lose all meaning and value?

Much of the episode consists of relatively abstract philosophical discussions between Quist and McArthur, and the makers of the show appear to have reached the eminently sensible conclusion that they needed one of the best actors in Britain to play opposite John Paul in these scenes. Your reaction on discovering they cast Patrick Troughton as McArthur should therefore be ‘Good choice!’, obviously. Troughton is essentially playing a disembodied head for most of this episode (there are faint resonances with elements of CS Lewis’s science fantasy, not to mention Olaf Stapleton’s Fourth Men), with minimal movement, but he (naturally) delivers a magnetic performance.

Of course, there is something a little bit ironic, don’t you think, about the fact that an actor most famous for playing a character who battled the Cybermen (created, of course, by the originators of Doomwatch) is here playing someone who the Cybermen themselves would doubtless consider a promising prospect, if a little sedentary. Quist’s discussions with McArthur concern his desire to rid himself of those troublesome organic emotions, and whether it isn’t in fact biological sensation that gives life its meaning (watching a sunset, smelling a flower, eating a well-prepared meal – or more likely a haphazardly-microwaved meal, if it’s round at my house).

It’s never very doubtful which way the episode is going to go – Doomwatch is largely defined by its humanist ethos, after all – and for once I wonder if the show isn’t being just a bit reactionary. Quist and the others take the view that the kind of immortality on offer must a priori be bad, in perpetuity – which seems to me to be begging the question a bit. You potentially have eternity in which to improve your situation, after all. In McArthur’s position I’d be inclined to give it a try.

Apart from Troughton’s performance, other noteworthy elements of the episode include an appearance by Alethea Charlton (part of the guest cast of the very first Doctor Who story) and a striking scene in which Ridge virtually begs Quist not to get involved – he can’t take on the responsibility of being the world’s moral conscience all the time, and this is strictly speaking outside their team’s remit. It’s interesting to see such an unashamedly philosophical episode, where the ultimate concern is not the safety of society but the fate of one man’s soul.

The next episode, Louis Marks’ The Human Time Bomb, would normally go into the same category as Flight into Yesterday, in that it looks very much like an overwrought overreaction to what we today would consider quite a minor issue. But right now things are not quite normal.

As the episode opens, Chantry has spent the last six weeks doing some research into a new housing project – another high-rise development. She has actually been living in the tower, and is present when another resident (Talfryn Thomas, from the early episodes of Survivors) has a kind of breakdown and effectively throws himself under a car. Almost everyone living in the block is showing the same signs of stress, but the company who built the project dismiss her concerns. A vicious circle beckons, as Chantry’s report warning of the potential dangers of high-rise living may be dismissed, if her own behaviour continues to be so out of character and apparently unbalanced…

Like I say, this is rather overwrought stuff (living in a tower block isn’t my idea of fun, but I doubt it would turn you quite so violently sociopathic as the episode suggests) and recognisably part of a subgenre of dystopian British fiction concerned with the dangers of high-rise living – see also J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, and the various Block Mania-related storylines in Judge Dredd. One thing which would always leave a sour taste in the mouth is the way that Chantry’s being a woman is exploited in the episode: part of the pressure put on her involves constant heavy-breather phone calls, and Ridge suggests her erratic behaviour may be due to her spending too long away from her daughter. There’s a suggestion of sexual threat in the climax, as well.

I would usually suggest that The Human Time Bomb is at best quaint, and it worst crudely exploitative, but just at this moment in time, only a little more than a week after the disaster at Grenfell Tower, I don’t feel it would be particularly appropriate to be quite so dismissive of a story about terrible things happening when the management of a high-rise block of flats are negligent and dismissive of warnings when it comes to the safety of their residents. I’m not saying the episode is particularly prescient, but it does feel unpleasantly resonant just now.

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Not all that long ago, having a spare half hour or so on my hands, I broke out my copy of Lost in Time and sat down to enjoy the first episode of The Web of Fear. Possibly because ‘orphan’ episodes have been in circulation for rather less time than most complete stories, I find many of them have a greater capacity to surprise, whether that be with their invention, atmosphere, or simple quality. I distinctly recall thinking ‘this looks like it could be a really good story… what a shame we’ll never see the rest of it again.’

Well, here we are, fifteen or sixteen months on, and who would have guessed? The Web of Fear, back with us again (well, about 84% of it, anyway). Although, on the other hand, there’s a sense in which The Web of Fear has been with us for many years in one version or another, and it’s curious to note the ways in which these different manifestations of the story have perhaps influenced our view of the original.


Anyway, the story runs thusly: London in the mid 1970s (anyone seriously attempting to argue otherwise is on an extremely sticky wicket, given it’s stated on screen that 1935 was ‘forty years ago’), and… Well, you see, here’s the thing about The Web of Fear, one of the things that makes it one of those very distinctive and perhaps even definitive pieces of Doctor Who. It’s very easy to tell a story about killer Yeti in Tibet. Robot killer Yeti in Tibet is perhaps a more challenging brief. With the idea of robot killer Yeti roaming the London underground, we are perhaps departing from the realms of the advisable. Robot killer Yeti roaming a London underground which is slowly filling with lethal, luminous fungus, under the command of a disembodied presence? Come on, be serious.

This story has that weird juxtaposition of wildly disparate ideas and images one only finds in certain pieces of Doctor Who, and it has it in spades. As a result, the story when viewed has a surreal, almost phantasmagorical quality to it, which may explain why it apparently spawned so many nightmares back in 1968: it’s almost like a waking dream to begin with.

And yet none of this is really captured by the version of the story which I and many others grew up on, Terrance Dicks’ novelisation. Terrance is a master of telling a straightforward narrative, and there’s no story so experimental or outre that he can’t knock it into a reassuring 126-page shape, usually opening with chapter 1, ‘The Terror Begins’, and concluding with chapter 12, ‘The Final Battle’.

I know I may sound a little snide, but I really don’t mean to: this is Terrance Dicks, after all. I can’t imagine how you could capture the fractured essence of The Web of Fear in a satisfying prose narrative, and Terrance doesn’t even try. He smooths over some of the cracks in the story, provides a satisfying backstory for key characters and events, and helpfully provides information to the reader that’s held back from the TV viewer for several episodes – it’s not until the middle of the TV story, after all, that we’re told what exactly has been happening in London, but Terrance explains it all at the end of the first chapter.

Of course, the fact that Terrance was writing in the mid 70s himself gave him a certain amount of information not available at the time the story was broadcast. High on the list of things which make The Web of Fear notable is the fact that it features Nicholas Courtney’s debut as the Brigadier-to-be, one of the longest-lasting and most beloved characters in the entire series – but, of course, none of this was planned at the time and Lethbridge-Stewart doesn’t get the big entrance you might expect, nor do we really see his first meeting with the Doctor. Terrance fixes this, adding an appropriate scene and laying on the significance with a trowel (he also adds some dialogue at the end with the Colonel announcing the whole affair has given him the idea for a sort of Intelligence Taskforce…).

Even so, this overlooks an element of the story which probably eludes modern viewers entirely, familiar as we are: the fact that this is an enemy-within story as much as a base-under-siege adventure. One of the big questions throughout the later stages of the story is that of who the Great Intelligence’s puppet might be, and the story has a good go at throwing red herrings at the audience. What’s potentially curious is the fact that one potential candidate for the secret villain is Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart himself.

The temptation when watching The Web of Fear is to curl up in the warm glow of this earliest Brig-Courtney performance and marvel that the characterisation was absolutely spot on right from the very start. And, in a way it is: the elements of humour that later appeared aren’t there, but in every other respect this is clearly the same man who later becomes such a fixture of the series: honest, loyal, brave, intelligent, and dedicated. but what we’re perhaps in danger of overlooking is that the Colonel may only be presented that way to make him a more plausible candidate as the Intelligence’s vessel (on the basis of this-guy’s-just-a-bit-too-good-to-be-true).

You have to judge any Doctor Who story in context if you want to come to a fair assessment of it – and of course, the context of Patrick Troughton’s first two series is such a devastated wasteland that it’s hard to say anything with a great degree of certainty. However, The Web of Fear provides more confirmation, as if any were needed, of the brilliance of Patrick Troughton’s central performance (and here, as in The Enemy of the World, he seems much more inclined to flirt with the female guest cast than our traditional ideas of his characterisation might suggest), and the consistently strong direction of Douglas Camfield. It’s certainly a more engaging and memorable tale than The Enemy of the World; it certainly mounts a strong challenge to The Invasion and The War Games as the best (mostly) surviving Troughton story, not least because it is so much darker and stranger than either of them. It almost goes without saying that we needed the actual episodes to see this for certain, but I’ll say it again anyway – novelisations and recons are, in their own way, wonderful things. But there’s no substitute for the original episodes themselves.


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As far as early-period Patrick Troughton stories go (a vintage I would classify as covering everything from Power of the Daleks to The Faceless Ones), The Moonbase seems to have a slightly higher profile than most, and the reasons for this are not too difficult to discern: it contains a famous monster in one of its more iconic manifestations, it’s one of the first manifestations of a story template which would, in some ways, come to define the era, and – and I think we shouldn’t overlook this – half the story actually exists, as opposed to the scraps and isolated episodes which are all we possess of so many others from this period. Perhaps the story is most famous these days as the source of the Doctor’s justly famous ‘…some corners of the universe have bred the most terrible things…’ speech, an iconic moment if ever there was one.

None of these necessarily guarantee a good story, of course, and I suspect that even the greatest cheerleaders for Troughton, or indeed the Cybermen, could seriously argue that this is one of the all-time greats. The story itself has a sort of charming simplicity. The TARDIS materialises on the Moon in the year 2070, which the Doctor is quite pleased about even though he was actually aiming for Mars. His companions, Ben, Polly, and Jamie, insist on staying and having a look around.


The travellers discover that the Moon is now inhabited, primarily by the inhabitants of the titular outpost. The purpose of the Moonbase is to control the weather on Earth using a whizzy gadget called the Gravitron, but it is experiencing a bit of a crisis: a mysterious space plague is affecting the crew. Needless to say, the Doctor finds himself drawn into discovering the source of the infection, which turns out to be, of course, the Cybermen.

You might with some justification wonder why the Cybermen are spending all their time sneaking about the Moonbase’s pantry and hiding under sheets in the infirmary rather than simply taking the Moonbase by force of arms (something which they seem quite capable of). There is, I suppose, some sort of justification for this typically byzantine plan, in that the Cybermen need humans alive to operate the Gravitron for them (gravity waves are apparently one of the many things to which this most vulnerable of monsters are martyrs) and a frontal assault on the dome would risk simply killing everyone inside.

But even so. It’s hard to shake the impression that this is Doctor Who at its most melodramatic – the shapes of many Doctor Who stories are to some extent determined by the requirements of the form, in that there are a certain number of episodes to fill, and so on, but with The Moonbase this is perhaps more obvious than with most. Hence the fact that the Cybermen wait until the second half of the story to actually do anything other than sneak about, the fact that the Moonbase commander goes from blaming the Doctor for the base’s problems to putting him in charge of solving the mystery in a breathtakingly short period of time, and so on.

However, I don’t want to kick the story too severely on these grounds; there are many other equally bad offenders and it is at least less repetitive in its plotting than its closest forebear, The Tenth Planet – quite apart from the base-under-siege scenario and the presence of the Cybermen, The Moonbase does recall Hartnell’s swan-song in the curiously muted and low-key role played by the Doctor himself – Hobson, the commander, is much more obviously dominant , and while it’s the Doctor who comes up with a way of disposing of the Cybermen (in an abrupt and quite possibly inadvertantly funny climax), it’s other characters who handle most of the other challenges of the adventure (the companions come up with the idea of killing the Cybermen by spraying them with nail-varnish remover quite independently, for example).

If the story isn’t as Doctor-centric as a modern audience might expect, it’s not really about the Cybermen, either. Quite apart from being largely absent from the first half of the story, when they appear they are at their least impressive and most generic. What are they? Where do they come from? Why are they attacking the Earth? The story doesn’t bother to answer any of these questions, not least because none of them are central to the story. Any generic adversary could fill in for them, and the sometimes-bitchy Cyberman dialogue (talk of ‘stupid Earth brains’, and so on) might even sound better coming from someone else.

So what is this story actually about? It’s this which makes The Moonbase interesting, if only as a cultural document. Let’s consider that title, for a start – you would never call a story The Moonbase nowadays (Moffat would doubtless dismiss it as ‘not slutty enough’), any more than you would call a story The Space Station or whatever. And yet, in 1967, the idea of a moonbase was considered in-and-of-itself an exciting enough idea to make it into the title of a story. Audience sensibilities have changed over the years, of course, but one thing perhaps worth considering is that viewers in 1967 would have considered themselves to be citizens of the Space Age, with manned lunar missions planned for the very near future, and an actual moonbase almost an inevitability. The Moonbase crew, perhaps significantly, does not contain anyone identified as Russian, but in all other ways this story is a product of the same vision of a unified technological utopia one sees not only in other Doctor Who stories from this period (especially those by Kit Pedler), but also the Gerry Anderson canon and the original Star Trek.

The positivity of this kind of science fiction just comes across as rather charming and a little naive now. I am aware that, as I write, there is a permanently-manned space station floating around somewhere above my head (well, broadly speaking), and every now and then a US President in need of a poll bump will announce a manned Martian mission, but I don’t think of myself as living in the Space Age, nor any kind of techno-utopia. We live in a darker, more beleagered world, I think, and our SF reflects this – to the extent that our SF is even about world building any more. Perhaps the dominance of internalised, character-oriented fantasy is itself the result of a reluctance to raise our eyes and look around us at the world we are making for ourselves.

That’s as maybe. Whatever The Moonbase‘s flaws as a narrative (and they are numerous) it is at least refreshing to recall such loftily-spirited, optimistic times. The Moonbase may be set in 2070 – but it’s a 2070 which now only exists in the past.

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Honestly, you wait twenty years for a ‘lost’ Doctor Who from the sixties to turn up, complete and intact, and when one does it’s The Enemy of the World. Tomb of the Cybermen excepted, it’s never the ones you want, is it? (I am sadly aware that the chances of either of the David Whitaker Dalek serials having survived are virtually zero.)

My reading of the mood music surrounding the return of Enemy of the World is that most people have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story: though quite why this should be the case, given that it’s written by David Whitaker and directed by Barry Letts – both long-term members of Doctor Who‘s roll of honour – I’m not entirely sure. Nevertheless, this is a story which had – well, not so much a bad reputation as no reputation at all. I expect people expressed a mild curiosity to see Patrick Troughton’s dual performance, but that’s about it – it’s impossible to imagine fandom choosing to see this one again, if Fury from the Deep or – ha! – The Web of Fear were also options.


Nevertheless, here it is again. The TARDIS lands on the coast of Australia in the year 2018*, by which time the world has become a unified, federal body divided into Zones run by Controllers. Accompanied by the kilted duo of Jamie and Victoria, the Doctor enjoys a quick dip – is this the only scene in fifty years where we are treated to a view of our hero’s undergarments? I’m not aware of another – before finding himself under apparently unprovoked attack by a squad of gunmen. Luckily, he and his friends are rescued by special agent Astrid, who cunningly deploys stock footage from From Russia With Love to rescue them.

Astrid and her boss Giles have a proposition for the Doctor: he is the spit of pre-eminent world leader Salamander, who some people believe to secretly be a wrong ‘un – hence the attempt on the Doctor’s life at the start of the story. However, they have no evidence to back up their suspicions. If the Doctor were to impersonate Salamander and infiltrate his headquarters, that could change…

So, the one line pitch for The Enemy of the World would run something like ‘the Doctor meets his evil double’. However, one of the slightly frustrating things about this story – which I have to say I find myself rather less inclined to praise than many – is that this premise rather gets forgotten about until the last couple of episodes. There’s a lot of equivocating by the Doctor before he finally decides to go along with the idea – his first instinct is to say a polite ‘no’ and clear off – which really reduces him to a passive figure on the sidelines. This is hardly ever a good move for a Doctor Who story.

On the other hand, one gets a very definite sense that the production demands of a dual-role story were a real limitation on this story. I must confess to not being entirely conversant with the technicalities of how it was made, but it does seem to be very carefully structured so that Patrick Troughton only has to get in or out of his Salamander make-up and costume once an episode, and the two characters he plays only meet once, in a slightly peculiar coda to the main action.

Salamander doesn’t seem remotely nonplussed at learning his lookalike emanates from something as utterly alien and exotic as the TARDIS, which strikes me as a real missed opportunity – then again, the story is down to its last handful of minutes by this point. Prior to this bit, Salamander has been shown to be ruthless and resourceful, but hardly an opponent in the Doctor’s class, so it would have been nice to see him crack and lose it upon realising just who he’s been up against – but not to be. Troughton’s performance is, of course, very good, although one wonders quite why they decided to go with that through-gritted teeth ‘Eyy, gringo!’ Mexican accent. Fun for Troughton, though, I expect.

With the twin-double storyline on hold for most of the story, what else is going on? Well, there’s the idea of the people down the bomb shelter believing there to have been a nuclear war, which is pretty much a cliche of late-20th century SF, but then again it wouldn’t be entirely out of place in what seems to me to be the main donor of ideas for this story – which would be the late-60s spy-fi genre. By this I mean things like James Bond, The Man from UNCLE, The Avengers and Danger Man, and you can discern elements in The Enemy of the World that it shares with all of these other films and programmes – whether that be the globetrotting nature of the story, or the evil double gimmick, or the idea of the fake nuclear shelter, or even Salamander’s rather implausible earthquake-manufacturing machine (come to think of it, isn’t there a joke about an earthquake or volcano machine in one of the Austin Powers films?).

However, what most 60s spy-fi has in its favour is either a brisk 50-minute running time, or a big budget (and the gloss that inevitably accompanies it). The protracted low-budget ramblings of The Enemy of the World do not, therefore, really resemble the things it is arguably attempting to pastiche, and rather unfortunately it doesn’t much look like the rest of Doctor Who from the rest of this period either. It’s always nice to see the show taking a running jump and having a go at something new and completely different – but you can see why this is one particular style that they never really revisited. There are some lovely moments in The Enemy of the World – most of them courtesy of Troughton as the Doctor, such as the wonderful ‘Whose law? Which philosophy? scene – but this story is a weird oddity more than anything else.


*The Semi-Obligatory When’s-It-Set Dissertation

The Enemy of the World is awkwardly easy to settle on a date for – very early on we see a licence which is due to expire at the end of 2018, while later in the story there’s a newspaper clipping from ‘last year’ which is dated 2017. Even the most hardened contrarian would struggle to find evidence against the conclusion that 2018 is when this story is set.

This places the story in a noble tradition of the 20th century show, where ‘futuristic’ stories end up being conveniently set a nice round number of years in the future, counting from the year of first broadcast – whether that be 20 years (The Tenth Planet), 50 years (this story), 100 years (Warriors of the Deep), or 1000 years (Terror of the Vervoids). I suppose this was done partly to form a convenient hook for the audience (‘Tonight, Doctor Who lands fifty years in the future!’) but it is a little bit hokey, which may explain why it’s something the modern show has abandoned (plus, as mentioned previously, the modern show’s notion of when the present day actually is has become a little chaotic).

Of course, the problem with putting a specific date on near-future stories is that you instantly create a hostage to fortune – here we are in 2013, just five years away from the events of the story (and parts of the backstory to it actually happen in 2013), with no sign of a World Zoning Authority or any of the other parts of this story’s background.

This is a problem here in a way that it isn’t for The Tenth Planet, because The Enemy of the World has that political angle and global scope which most Doctor Who stories don’t. In short, the gap between the fictional reality of the story and that of the real world is wider and deeper than is usually the case.

It’s a reasonably safe bet that they will still be making Doctor Who stories with a present day setting when 2018 rolls around, but it’s an absolutely watertight certainty that the production regime at the time will make no effort whatsoever to ensure that continuity with this ‘earlier’ 2018 is maintained. Explaining the difference will be left to continuity cops, and loath as I usually am to say it, I think there’s very little option but to conclude that this story is set in one of those peculiar timelines which got overwritten by the Time War or the reboot of the universe.

(Though I suppose you could equally well argue that this story is set at some point in a much more distant future where the calendar has been reset, but where contemporary names and weapons are still in vogue – Earth in 2018, just not the 2018 we think it is. That might even explain Benik’s haircut.)

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It is, obviously, quite difficult to come up with an informed opinion about Patrick Troughton’s tenure in Doctor Who, or even one concerning most of his individual stories, quite simply because the majority of his work isn’t there any more. As a result, the consensus is that the actor was brilliant and hugely influential – Colin Baker and Matt Smith, actors whose performances are wildly different, have both cited Troughton as the man they’re looking to emulate – but people are less willing to talk definitively about the stories – certainly the missing ones.

It wasn’t always thus, with heartfelt declarations that Tomb of the Cybermen was one of the all-time classics being widely made – right up until 1992 when the story was miraculously rediscovered in Asia. Watching it again now, however, one gets a strong sense of a story where the production values and plot ephemera are actively fighting against the effectiveness of the narrative’s core: the creepiness of the Cybermen and their tomb are vastly undermined when they spend much of their (limited) screen-time looking after their peculiar little pets and quacking like ducks.

Anyway, I’m not here to write about Tomb of the Cybermen, but a Troughton story I’ve always really liked. The problem here is – well, as I say, there are only really a handful of intact Troughtons, mostly from his final year, and those are a really mixed bag. The Seeds of Death rivals Asylum of the Daleks in terms of plot incoherence, The Dominators is very dreary, and The Mind Robber is jarringly weird and atypical. I really like The Invasion and The War Games, but this is something that’s crept up on me rather than being there from the first time I saw them. Outside of Season 6, the only intact story is Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve already explained my issues concerning.

So it’s going to be another missing story, and if this current series of reviews is going to be properly representative of Doctor Who, I’m going to have to do a full-blooded Dalek story at some point – and, as it happens, one of my favourite Dalek stories is a Troughton – not Evil of the Daleks, for which we at least possess one episode, but The Power of the Daleks, Troughton’s debut, and the only Dalek story for which only scant remnants are available.


The story opens with a lengthy TARDIS sequence introducing the new Doctor: his companions Ben and Polly are understandably dubious about this odd new individual. The story proper begins when the TARDIS arrives on the planet Vulcan (this story predates the debut of Star Trek, in case you were wondering), a hostile planet partly covered with mercury swamps.

There is, however, an Earth colony on Vulcan. In terms of the wider Doctor Who universe we are given no clue as to exactly when the story is set, and as a result there has been much speculation and debate about this – but it doesn’t really have much bearing on the plot, so I don’t think we need to get into that*. Almost at once the new Doctor finds himself caught up in the murder of a visiting official from Earth, whose identity he adopts. The colony is riven by conflict between its governor and a group of rebels (this was not such a cliche at the time the story was made, nor is this element of the plot as hackneyed as it sounds).

However, the Doctor’s attention is more immediately grabbed by the activities of the colony’s chief scientist, Lesterson. Lesterson has discovered an alien capsule in one of the mercury swamps and is keen to exploit what he has found within: apparently robotic entities who declare their only objective is to serve the humans of the colony. But the Doctor knows better, because these creatures are the Daleks, and they are only being so helpful because this will give them access to the resources they need to rebuild their strength. Once they have achieved this, the prospects of the colony look set to take a sharp downturn…

The first thing that strikes one about Power of the Daleks is the extremely pragmatic approach it takes to handling the regeneration – this isn’t really a story about the aftermath of the regeneration itself, and after the first few minutes the Doctor is notably less prone to post-regenerative trauma (amnesia, coma, sudden mood swings and mania)  than he is on almost any other occasion. The main plot of the story is nothing to do with the change in the Doctor or his altered relationships with his companions.

That said, even the Moff has praised Power for its supposed bravery in (briefly) toying with the idea that the new Doctor may not in fact be the Doctor at all – the reasoning being that on this crucial occasion, you would have expected the production team to go all out not to unsettle the audience too much. I’m not so sure; I think the approach the story takes is the obvious way to go in this kind of situation. Once you’ve established that regeneration is a fact of life (so to speak), you lose the option of playing this kind of game with it forever after, so it’s possibly a shame the story doesn’t go a lot further down this route.

On the other hand, given that what we get instead is arguably one of the really great Doctor Who stories, and surely one of the best two or three Dalek stories of all time, it’s difficult to argue this with great force. It’s possible to say this of a story for which only a tiny amount of material survives because its strength doesn’t necessarily lie in the production values or the direction, it’s all there in the script.

Most people would say that author David Whitaker’s big idea is to depict the Daleks as devious and manipulative, rather than the squawking maniacs of many another script. (You could argue that you can see everything that makes David Whitaker a remarkable writer and Terry Nation a fairly pedestrian one in the way they handle a story in which the Daleks can’t use their ray guns: Whitaker gives us three episodes of the Daleks plotting and scheming to achieve their ends through other means, while Nation just has them bolting machine-guns onto themselves after about fifteen minutes.) This is true, but – as Victory of the Daleks, something of an heir to Power, demonstrates – this in itself isn’t enough to make a story really great.

For a while I was wondering quite what it was that I liked so much about Power of the Daleks, and what made it so special, then I came across something that threw the story into sharp relief – another version of it.

Power of the Daleks Reimagined is a fan-made adaptation of the original scripts, written and directed by and starring Nick Scovell as the Doctor. On many levels this is a highly impressive production, with production values at least as good as those on many stories from the 63-89 run, huge numbers of Dalek props – more than the original story – and some top-end CGI in places. Scovell’s Doctor – a rumpled, Donnish figure – is definitely more old-school than any of the 21st century TV Doctors, but his performance is very engaging. This production is easy to track down and I would recommend it to fans of old-school Doctor Who.

Couldn't find a photo of the Scovell Doctor with the Daleks. Sorry.

Couldn’t find a photo of the Scovell Doctor with the Daleks. Sorry.

However, it falls a long way short of the original story, and the reasons for this were, I thought, indicative. This is despite Reimagined retaining many of the character names and some of the most memorable dialogue from the original story, along with the general thrust of the story. The key thing is that, in Reimagined, everyone is fascinated by the Daleks, pretty much as an end in itself: they’re the primary focus of everyone’s story. In the original, on the other hand, everyone has other things on their minds, other objectives, and if they’re interested in the Daleks then it’s only as a means to an end. Lesterson believes they can teach him new science, the Governor can only see the economic benefits of a new robot labour force, the rebels see them as a weapon to help them take over, and so on.

Whitaker spends a lot of time and effort developing the human characters and their various conflicts, and this is crucial to the story, because what both his Dalek scripts – this, and the (to my mind) somewhat overpraised Evil of the Daleks – are fundamentally about is the difference between Daleks and human beings. Humans are innately chaotic, riven, factionalised, pursuing individual objectives. The Daleks think and act as one: their unity is part of their strength. It’s almost amusing that, in the story, the Daleks seem more curious about the nature of human beings than vice versa: one of them is clearly baffled by the human tendency to kill each other.

At the risk of treading on my own toes, I think this is the story where the characterisation of the Daleks that we are most familiar with really starts to come into focus. We are so often told that their primary objective is the extermination of all non-Dalek life (here this is usefully summarised as ‘the Law of the Daleks’), but – for sound dramatic reasons – this is something we hardly ever see them trying to put into practice.

Part of the pleasure of Power of the Daleks is waiting for the moment – and it’s obvious this is going to come – when the Daleks drop their pretence of servility, move in force, and start killing everyone in sight. And it’s a sign of how brilliantly the story is structured that the Daleks’ rise to ascendancy is deftly summarised across the story’s five cliffhangers. The first has the Dalek shells immobilised and literally powerless, the creatures within having been forced to emerge (or so it’s implied). The second has a lone, unarmed Dalek ingratiating itself with the colonists, and the third a trio of Daleks making their plans for the future clear. Episode Four concludes with Lesterson stumbling upon a Dalek production line – a tremendous image – and the swelling host of new Daleks, while the final cliffhanger is the point at which the Daleks start to make their move on the colony.

Whitaker’s Daleks are clearly psychotic, but rationally so, quite capable of dissembling when it suits their purposes. When they gather en masse within their capsule, however, it’s as if some kind of mob frenzy grips them: they endlessly repeat each other in a sort of twisted chorus, as if they can barely restrain their killer impulses. They are genuinely disturbing as in few other stories.

And, needless to say, it’s only the Doctor who saves the day – even so, it’s clear that much of the colony has been laid waste by the conclusion. Nevertheless, it shows that the new Doctor is still the Doctor, even if he is clearly a very different individual from in previous stories – he has already begun to acquire the slippery, mercurial qualities that ultimately came to define Troughton’s characterisation, while there’s little sign of the autocrat, usually so secure in his own authority, that William Hartnell brought to the screen.

So, a turning point for the Doctor, and a real high point for the Daleks: I can’t think of another story which has used them so intelligently. Will we ever get to see this story properly again? We can only hope: I can’t believe it could do less than live up to expectations.




* Oh, If You Insist…

There’s no on-screen date given at any point during The Power of the Daleks. Trailers at the time suggested the story was set in 2020, but publicity isn’t what I’d call a primary source. It seems very unlikely that Vulcan is a solar planet, which would appear to place the story no earlier than the late 21st century, which is when the human race made its first FTL flights (according to The Waters of Mars). The level of technology in use on the colony seems to be quite low – projectile weapons rather than ray guns, and so on – so it doesn’t look like it’s too far into the future.

No-one in the story recognises the Daleks – this is a crucial plot point – which would seem to preclude it taking place after the Dalek invasion of the solar system round about the 2160s (one of the few in-universe events of the 60s that other stories routinely refer to). Personally, my instinct is to place it very late in the 21st century or early in the 22nd: I find myself somewhat whimsically inclined to plump for 2120, given the popularity of the 2020 date elsewhere.

However, if we’re talking about people not recognising the Daleks, recently-made stories made it retrospectively strange that no-one on a space colony is aware of an alien race which spectacularly attacked Earth twice in the early 21st century (in 2007 and 2009). Possibly mindful of this, the current writers of the series have established that Amy Pond – and by extension the rest of the planet – have had their memories of the Battle of Canary Wharf and the stealing of Earth erased, the implication being that this is a result of the cracked universe which is such a feature of Season Thirty-One.

Exactly how this happened is difficult to work out – other consequences of the Battle of Canary Wharf, such as the Tyler clan relocating to a parallel universe and the collapse of Torchwood One, still seem to be in effect. One must also imagine strange things occurring in Van Staten’s vault in the late 2000s, as everyone suddenly forgets what the Dalek incarcerated there is called. But we’re in danger of seriously digressing here, and at least this oddity means that dating Power of the Daleks is not made unduly challenging.

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Halloween looms once more, and without further ado let us try to establish something of a tradition by reviewing another classic old Hammer horror movie (not that I’m averse to going down this road at any time of year, of course). Roy Ward Baker’s Scars of Dracula, originally released in 1970, opens in majestic style with a rubber bat on a string vomiting fake blood onto the gritty remnants left after the Count’s last dissolution (in Taste the Blood of Dracula).

Lo and behold, Dracula reconstitutes himself (he is once again played by Christopher Lee, though this wasn’t the mortal lock you might have expected at the time). All this happens before the opening credits, which makes a refreshing change after a series of films in which Dracula doesn’t show up until quite a long way in. (There is a reason for this, which we will address in due course.)

Dracula gets back into his old routine by chowing down on the daughter of one of the local yokels. However, the villagers feel the need to nip this latest outbreak of vampirism in the bud and set off for Castle Dracula, flammable objects in hand. The village innkeeper (Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper, getting unusually good material) boldly launches the assault on the Count’s stronghold by walking up to the front door and ringing the bell. Luckily the villagers’ cause is helped by the fact that manning the entrance is Dracula’s dogsbody Klove (Patrick Troughton, in a wig and makeup that makes him look rather like Liam Gallagher’s granddad), who is an idiot. Klove obligingly lets them in and they proceed to set fire to a few bits of the castle, but don’t actually bother looking that hard for Dracula himself. (The damage to the matte painting of the castle seems to be much more severe than to the actual set.) Feeling the job has been done, the villagers toddle off home, only to discover that all their womenfolk have been killed by rubber bats on strings, despite taking refuge in the church. Blimey.

All this is, to be perfectly honest, largely immaterial to the actual plot of the film – although I suppose it does explain why the villagers are so bad tempered for the rest of the movie and why Dracula appears strikingly reluctant to leave his house throughout (clearly concerned about leaving Klove in charge). The proper story kicks off at this point as we meet fresh-faced mittel-European youths Simon and Sarah (Dennis Waterman and Jenny Hanley), who are in lurve. However, they are concerned by the roguish antics of Simon’s brother Paul (Christopher Matthews). In a slightly dodgy plot development, one of Paul’s conquests goes a bit bunny-boilerish and accuses him of rape, forcing him to flee across the border (which border is not elaborated upon). He pitches up in the village from the start of the movie, where the men are clearly still soldiering on despite everything (the local inn has a barmaid, who in the circumstances is not as well treated as you might expect). Anyway, he does not get a warm reception and – would you believe it? – finds himself heading castle-wards before much time has elapsed. Meanwhile, Simon and Sarah are still looking for him and their attempt to follow his trail inevitably sees them also heading into danger before too long…

Scars of Dracula is a movie which plays strictly according to the classic horror rulebook: inasmuch as any major character with a fondness for an immoral lifestyle is writing their own death warrant, while all those on the path of virtue are essentially untouchable. I think they probably overdo this element a bit: it’s okay to make your good guys nice people, but Waterman and Hanley are such an incredibly insipid couple that it’s impossible to really care about them. It doesn’t help much that, despite the period setting, all the young characters come across as well-brought-up present day kids in fancy dress – an impression only bolstered by an infelicitously-framed shot which reveals that Paul’s choice of sleeping attire is a pair of bright red Y-fronts.

That said, it’s not as if anyone turns up to a Hammer Dracula to see the supporting cast. You come to see Christopher Lee doing his stuff – and, as these things go, he gets a fair amount of screen time here. The script actually gives Lee the chance to play Dracula with a little more depth than usual – there’s a lot of material here which is, broadly speaking, derived from Stoker’s original novel, which means that Lee gets the chance to retain a little dignity and intelligence, rather than simply being a slavering fiend lurking in a ruined church (which he spends a lot of time doing in later Hammer movies).

Despite all this, as had become traditional, Christopher Lee really had to be dragged into the studio and (almost literally) blackmailed into participating. And even this was at the behest of the distributors, who weren’t interested in a non-Lee Dracula movie. Hammer had originally planned to recast and relaunch the series, much as they did with their Frankenstein series in the same year, but their backers insisted that this be, nominally, part of the same continuity that started in 1958.

(Inevitably, one has to wonder who Hammer had in mind to play their new Dracula: I’m not aware of any documentation on this being available. The obvious choice for me would have been Ralph Bates, were it not for the fact he’d been in the previous film as one of the Count’s acolytes (not to mention that he was also the new Frankenstein in Horror of Frankenstein). No-one else in the Hammer rep company really fits the bill for me.)

This is why the film opens in the way it does: the original script was to start with Dracula in his castle doing his thing. The vomiting bat sequence was the quickest way of restoring the character, but this is inevitably one of the things that draws criticism from hard-core Hammer fans – not because the bat is rubbish (though it is), but because at the end of the previous movie Dracula was destroyed in England, and this movie opens with his remains being back in Transylvania (not identified as such on screen), with no explanation given.

I expect it must have been Klove who did all the necessary travelling around and sweeping up. One of the consequences of keeping Scars of Dracula in-continuity with the earlier movies is that Troughton’s playing a character with the same name and job as someone who was apparently shot dead in Dracula, Prince of Darkness. Is this meant to be the same Klove, miraculously recovered?

Well, the first Klove (Philip Latham) was a lugubrious fanatic, but he dressed smartly and was a credible butler. Troughton’s Klove is an idiot who dresses like a yokel and quite frankly isn’t up to scratch as a domestic of any kind. Presumably the Klove family have some sort of ongoing contract with Dracula to do for him, and Troughton’s character was the only person available to do the work. Dracula seems to accept that you just can’t get the staff these days with commendable equanimity.

‘Feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic’, etc.

Nevertheless, Klove is really the pivotal character of the movie (honest), and on top of this as a result of his presence we get an unexpected insight into the domestic arrangements at Castle Dracula. Klove spends his days whiling away the time in his horrible quarters, getting tricked into opening the gates by passing vampire hunters, chopping up corpses and dissolving them in an old tin bath, removing crucifixes from the busts of visiting starlets, and being branded with a red-hot sword whenever he gets something wrong. What kind of money is he making? What must the initial job advert have looked like?

One’s mind inevitably wanders into territory such as this during Scars of Dracula. This is despite an attempt by Hammer to up the gore and sex quotient in an attempt to compete with the stronger meat provided by American exploitation movies of the period. To be honest it’s fairly mild stuff, compared to later movies – the nudity content consists of a pair of bare buttocks, and Baker doesn’t seem very comfortable in his handling of the gore. The importance to the plot of rubber bats on strings is also a problem: at various points the bats are required to savage people to death and wrest crosses from their persons, and all of this looks about as convincing as you’d expect.

The main problem with this film is not to do with the production values, however, as these are mostly pretty good: and there is of course a lush and atmospheric James Bernard score to be savoured. The problem is that, despite the fact that Dracula gets some good material and the film is occasionally striking and involving, it’s essentially bereft of new ideas. Taste the Blood of Dracula had interesting things to offer on the subjects of morality and the clash of generations – but Scars of Dracula isn’t really about anything beyond Dracula noshing on his guests and mistreating his staff. It’s simply a very mixed bag of elements, all present for different reasons, and as a result the film lacks the strong identity of the best Hammer Draculas. Still sort of fun, though.

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Warning: may contain spoilers for the Boudicca Rebellion of 60AD.

‘See the accursed blood rites of the Iceni! See men roasted alive in the cage of Hell! As barbarism and passions inflame a pagan pleasure empire! See the occult terrors of the Druids! As the Roman lash tries to tame the will of a golden goddess!’

Gotta love those mid-Sixties Hammer trailer scripts. We are here, as you may have guessed, to discuss Don Chaffey’s 1967 offering The Viking Queen, from the studio’s peak period when they were wandering quite a long way from their horror and fantasy heartlands. The Viking Queen certainly isn’t either of those – it appears to be Hammer’s crack at doing a sword-and-sandal epic, with more than a dash of the dodgy exploitation movie about it.

Oh well. Our story unfolds in the Roman Empire of the first century, where the subject races are apparently kept in their place solely by stentorian voice-overs and stock footage from other, bigger-budget films. The nicer parts of Britain are currently under the joint rule of local king Priam (yes, I know, we’ll come back to this) and visiting Governor-General Justinian (Don Murray), whose accent suggests he’s come not from Rome but somewhere in California.

Priam snuffs it, following a King Lear-ish scene in which he decides to leave his kingdom to middle daughter Salina (Carita), whose own accent suggests she has recently arrived from Helsinki. The local chief Druid (an almost uncannily bad performance from Donald Houston) prophesies she will wield a sword and that the land will run with blood, but everyone ignores him (perhaps they are hoping he will be cut out of the movie at the editing stage). Justinian and the new Queen strike up a close relationship and, following a spot of recreational charioteering which concludes with them both falling in the river, find that shared possession of dubious accents really can be the basis of romance.

Needless to say, the Druids don’t like the planned wedding of the Queen of the Iceni to the Roman Governor, and nor does Justinian’s brutal second-in-command Octavian (Andrew Keir) – any historians watching the movie will probably also have strenuous objections to make, but it’s just too late, guys. With Justinian’s permission Salina really turns the screws when it comes to taxing the local rich merchants (you could get away with this sort of redistribution of wealth pre-Thatcher), which prompts them to cook up a plan with Octavian to get Justinian off the scene for a bit so normal service can be resumed.

As you might expect, Octavian gets a bit carried away with his reign of terror and before you can say ‘At least One Million Years BC had Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs to soften the impact of the terrible historical accuracy’, Salina and the Britons are painting themselves blue and fixing scythes to their chariots, preparatory to a rebellion against the Romans…

There’s a persistent story that, at one point in The Viking Queen, a Roman soldier comes on wearing a wrist-watch, and that this is fairly indicative of the film’s grasp of historical fact. I, like a few others, have looked for this anachronistic chronometer and been unable to find it – so it may in fact be an apocryphal anachronistic chronometer. Nevertheless, there’s a sense in which it’s quite surprising how much of the general background of the Iceni revolt this film gets broadly correct. Character names and relationships have been changed, but the politics of the story and the progress of the uprising are clearly based on what actually happened (though we don’t get to see London razed to the ground).

However, when it comes to the particulars, the movie energetically gets things wrong with a consistency that’s awe-inspiring, if slightly painful. The Druids, not content with being uniformly badly played, are depicted as worshipping Greek gods. Half the Britons look like medieval serfs, while the rest appear to be cavemen – and while the Druids predict that Salina will ‘wear armour’, the outfit she eventually chooses to go into battle in resembles a fancy dress costume rejected by Jordan on the grounds of excessive tackiness. We have already heard that the king of the Iceni is named Priam – add to this the fact he has subjects named Fergus, Nigel and Osiris and you get an overwhelming sense of a scriptwriter with zero feel for this setting.

Having said that, this movie could just about work as a piece of fluffy, slightly naughty fun, if you were able to buy into the central romance. But you can’t. Carita is just one of a long line of thickly-accented buxom Nordic glamour-pusses imported by Hammer for this kind of role and she brings nothing to the movie but hair, legs, and cleavage. You would expect that a veteran performer like Don Murray would do better, but the fact he’s the only American in the movie is very intrusive, and the screenplay – which never really gives him much to do – increasingly sidelines him. Towards the end he mainly spends a lot of time staring around him in aghast horror, but this may just be a result of finally having read the script. (Murray’s next outing as a governor having to deal with a slave uprising would end less well for him.)

Not all is rotten in The Viking Queen‘s acting department, though, as this film features a number of actors who always seem to make a point of doing the best they can whatever the quality of the script. Most prominent is Andrew Keir, making the most of a rare role as a villain: he’s easily the most convincing character in the movie. Patrick Troughton does his usual sterling work as a British courtier – this was Troughton’s last film for a while as immediately after he went off to do some job or other at the BBC for three years. Niall McGinnis has a smaller role as one of Justinian’s assistants and makes the most of it.

After you’ve been watching The Viking Queen for a while, you become grateful for whatever crumbs you can find, because while the production values are adequate they’re certainly no more than that. The action sequences are hardly lavish, but at least the scenery is nice (County Wicklow in Ireland stands in for Norfolk). Time and again you get the sense of ambition being thwarted by a lack of resources (numbers of extras, leading actresses who can act, supporting artists of the right ethnicity – there’s a horribly obvious example of a woman in blackface (rather more than face, actually) amongst Octavian’s harem). But the problems nearly all start with the script. The Viking Queen would really like to be an epic, romantic tragedy, but its budget can’t run to epic and the romance doesn’t remotely convince. As a result, rather than a tragedy it just comes across as a piece of absurd camp – highly entertaining if approached in the right spirit, but utterly impossible to take seriously.

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