There are things in this world and in this country that are worth getting cross about – that merit a strong reaction. As you know. I know, too, because I work for a Foodbank. Collecting money on a freezing day last Christmas, a nice old lady put a tenner into my bucket. “We had rationing during the War,” she said, “but we didn’t have bloody Foodbanks.” As a country, we’re now giving out 1.6 million food parcels a year.
But the DWC is not the right place for discussion of politics, or religion, or perhaps even ethics. Even so, it’s things like this that make me hesitate about giving in to my despair – the despair I feel over the current and lamentable state of the adventures of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor.
And comparing the dross of 2018’s Series 11 with the Season 11 of 1974 would, if I let it, make me very cross indeed. Jon Pertwee is incomparably better than Jodie Whittaker; Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) is incomparably better than the cardboard Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole). Robert Holmes, Malcolm Hulke, Barry Letts, and Robert Sloman can’t half write; the present showrunner can’t write at all. Terry Nation and Brian Hayles, who produced the less good – but still good – offerings of classic Who’s Season 11 still knock spots off the screenwriters of today.
Season 11 of 1974 is not quite the best year ever in Doctor Who’s 56 years, but it gets very close. It should be compulsory viewing for anyone who writes for the series today and, yes, for the actors who play the current leads, too. All that needs to be done is for them to be sat down in front of the DVDs and be told, “This is how to do it.”
Here, then, dear reader, are my thoughts, musings and meanderings on the run of stories from The Time Warrior to Planet of the Spiders. My perkily fertile brain will now proceed to puke forth a 3-fold article on Season 11 (proper Season 11, I mean; not that excrescence that was on the telly last year). I propose to offer this opus in 3 enthralling parts. First, an essay. Third, a review of each story. And second…
Second. Well, the thing is, I was 8 years old when Season 11 was aired and I actually remember it very clearly. So, I’m going to try to write about what I thought about each story when it was first shown.
Still with me? Great stuff. Off we go.
Season 11: Overview
Classic-Who didn’t usually go for story arcs or running themes. However, it seems to me that them as wants to can find themes if they look closely. I’d argue that, in fact, there is a running theme in Season 11 and it isn’t a story arc, but a concept:
I doubt that Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks sat down and decided that this would be the theme for 1974; even so, I think it’s there, even if it only really became apparent once the whole run of stories was in the can. Of course, it could be said that I’m taking the definite theme of egotism from Planet of the Spiders and then reading it back into the other stories; that may be true, but the theme is still present, even if it’s not foregrounded so much in the first 4 adventures. Also, I guess that any response to a text by any reader (or viewer, in this case) is going to be a personal one; those who receive a text by reading or watching it can discover in it things that the writer didn’t intend or, more pretentiously, didn’t know were there.
It’s the theme of egotism that makes Planet of the Spiders one of the most interesting and one of the best stories in the entire Doctor Who canon.
And the most interesting character in that story, and in the entire season, is Lupton.
We’re helped here by the fact that the part was brilliantly written, and that John Dearth gives such an outstanding performance. Lupton is a very nasty piece of work. Nothing particularly unusual in that, but it’s very unusual in Doctor Who for a character’s psyche to be explored in such depth. It’s clear he wasn’t always like this; he’s got worse. And we’re told why.
Lots of Doctor Who villains are bad because they’re bad. “I like being bad. It’s fun. I decided that I would be a villain. And I enjoy it. So there!” And that’s fine: Shakespeare did it with Richard III and it works just as well in Who (there are a lot of similarities between the Master and Richard, both villains we love to hate, but it’d take too much space to explore this properly here).
Lupton’s different. In real life, we’re much more likely to meet someone like Lupton than someone who likes evil because it’s fun.
In the ’70s, the National Front (the UK’s very own Nazi party, if you haven’t heard of them) were very noisy and well known. I can remember as a child seeing a Party Political Broadcast by one of their number – some nasty little inadequate; I forget him name – and asking my father why anyone could believe and say things like that. “They’re people who’ve been hurt,” said Dad, “and now they want to hurt other people.”
As a (partial) explanation of Fascism, I still think this is actually pretty good. If you apply it to Lupton, it’s spot on.
Lupton wants to hurt and humiliate other people because he’s been hurt and humiliated. It’s impossible not to have some sympathy for him: it’s not difficult to imagine that Cho-Je (Kevin Lindsay) recognised, when Lupton arrived at the monastery, that this new brother was someone who had been deeply wounded – and who could, if he wanted to, be healed: through embracing the compassion and welcome the centre gave him, and by following the teaching and guidance the community freely offered.
Not a chance. Lupton is a bully because he’s been bullied; he’s an abuser because he’s been abused. “I came here to get power. Do you think I’m going to let go now when it’s in sight, when I can see myself taking over that firm, taking over the country, the entire stinking world? I want to see them grovel, I want to see them breaking their hearts, I want to see them eating dirt.” Not much here of an eye for an eye. It’s interesting that the Old Testament law on revenge – eye for eye, hand for hand, tooth for tooth – was originally not so much an insistence on retaliation as an attempt to limit it: you can bash the other person to the same extent as they bashed you, and no more. That’s not enough for Lupton: it’s not enough to humiliate the callous bosses who humiliated him; he’s going to take his revenge on the whole country, on the whole of humanity. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” said Gandhi. Lupton’s reply would be, “Good. That’s what I want.”
Lupton, then, is the supreme egotist. He would have agreed with maxim of the notable Victorian crackpot and nutcase Aleister Crowley, who said: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. There is to be no limit to Lupton’s revenge. He doesn’t want to change; he doesn’t want to be cured; he doesn’t want to get better. He nurses his hurt and his hatred and allows it to dominate him. He works out his own damnation and ends up as nothing more than food for a bunch of spiders; a human being is reduced to a lump of meat. His pursuit of power, his lust to become a superman, consumes and then destroys him. The superman becomes subhuman, and then becomes just a corpse: a slab of red meat for the delectation of his one-time allies.
There’s something profound here about the nature of evil. In The Screwtape Letters, C S Lewis imagines a series of correspondence between a senior and a junior devil. Screwtape urges his protégé Wormwood, “Bring us back food” (humans), or be food yourself. The devils’ credo is that nature demands the absorption of a weaker self by a stronger. Essentially, that’s what Lupton wants to do (and definitely what The Great One wants to do), even if Lupton goes for domination of others rather than absorption.
But Screwtape, Lupton, and The Great One are wrong. There is such a thing as morality, despite their implicit denials. Evil wreaks havoc and causes enormous suffering, but its destructive power is not just external; it’s internal, too. Evil, born of egotism, corrupts and then destroys itself. It burns itself out. This seems to me the message of King Lear and of Planet of the Spiders too. The Great One’s burning desire to be the ruler of the entire universe ends up in her literal burning. The desire for the self to go beyond its limits leads to the destruction of that self. The Great One is the supreme symbol of egotism in Season 11; egotism is symbolically represented as a vast, grotesque, and bloated spider. The Great One wants to become God – a God not of love and compassion but a God made in her own image – and to dominate and absorb billions of other selves. But it won’t work. As the last perfect crystal joins the lattice above her head, the bubble of egotism reaches its only natural end: the bubble doesn’t expand to infinity, it bursts. The end is not in deification of the self, but in the self’s destruction.
Lots of good drama presents us with a conflict between characters of totally opposing views: More and Cromwell in Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Pilate and Jesus in Potter’s Son of Man. In both plays, Pilate and Cromwell advocate an amoral pragmatism: “convenience”, Cromwell calls it, a convenience that can, if necessary, steamroller through people who are unfortunate enough to get in the way. They’re contrasted in the plays with Jesus’s and More’s ideological refusal to budge an inch. Similarly, the egotism of Lupton, The Great One, and, to a lesser extent, the other spiders is contrasted with the compassionate gentleness of Cho-Je, K’anpo (George Cormack), and to a degree by the goodness of the Doctor, Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), Tommy (John Kane), and Sarah.
I’m not a Buddhist, so I can’t quite go along with the idea that our true selves are to be found in the realisation that there is no self. Even so, the gentle kindness and compassion of Cho-Je and the Abbot – I realise they’re the same person – shows how the self should be kept under limits. To impose one’s own desires on another, to the detriment of his or her self, is never legitimate. The danger for the Doctor is that his greed for knowledge (and experience) can endanger others and can put his own self at risk. In another representation of Buddhist teaching, it is when the Doctor finally accepts and embraces his own limitations that he finds his true self – and this acceptance leads to the death of his third self, and his reincarnation at the end of the story.
So. Egotism is the theme of Planet of the Spiders. Does the theme appear in the other stories of the season?
I’d argue it does, even though it’s more muted. There isn’t space to explore this in the same detail, but it’s certainly present in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The motivation of the villains in this story – the human ones, not the rubber ones – is different from Lupton’s: they want the best for other people and they believe what they want is morally right. The problem comes when other people aren’t so keen to have what is best imposed upon them, whether they like it or not.
So, the motivation for Whitaker (Peter Miles), Grover (Noel Johnson), Butler (Martin Jarvis), and Yates is righteous, but it’s wrong because it’s self-righteous. Self-righteousness is another form of egotism. I know what’s right and I know damn sure I know what’s right for you, too.
Mankind is corrupt. Mankind is the enemy. Mankind does nasty things, like pollute and destroy. So, it’s okay to destroy mankind. But we’ll do it very nicely and we’ll be jolly civilised about it too: we’ll roll back time so human beings never existed in the first place. That’s not genocide, because – because – well, it can’t be genocide because we are so very, very nice!
The desire to do what is right is a good thing. But again, it has to be kept under limits; the egotistical desire to impose my vision on others, regardless of their consent, is wrong. Sir Charles Grover is a decent man who’s become a menace because he refuses to consider that he might be wrong; environmentalism is right, but beware extremism. Make your own view of goodness an absolute to be imposed on other people, and it becomes morally wrong (arguably something you can see in communism, in religious extremism, and in branding as thought criminals those whose views on society are not as strident and blaring as yours).
Not so subtle is the egotism of the Daleks… but the Daleks, too, are egotists. Michael Wisher once said that the Daleks have an enormous inferiority complex, and so they develop an enormous superiority complex to compensate. I can’t really see the Daleks having much interest in debates about morality, or the legitimate limits of the self. The Dalek view of the universe is very monochrome: the universe is divided into two things: Daleks and Everything Else. Daleks are supreme. Everything else must be blown up. Or used as slave labour. And then blown up.
This is why Daleks are fun.
The Time Warrior introduces us to the Sontarans, and they’re much nastier than they became later. Even though I like Strax, the Sontarans have essentially degenerated into comedy characters. (Not something that was limited to NuWho; the Sontarans in 1985’s The Two Doctors are starting to veer in that direction.) Linx (Lindsay, once more), by contrast, is a thug and nothing more. His sole motivation is the glory of the Sontaran empire: it’s fine to kidnap, abuse, and starve 20th Century scientists to get his ship working; it’s fine to use the primitives on an uninteresting planet as entertainment in war gaming. The Ice Warriors faction in The Monster of Peladon have no interest in the welfare of other species; they yearn for the glory days of fighting and conquest, dismissing the pussy-footing of their namby-pamby leaders as soft and unMartian. Egotism, again: the Sontarans and the Ice Warriors are racists who see others as means to their ends.
Egotism as a theme in Season 11 has its clearest expression in Planet of the Spiders, and it’s also clearly present in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. It’s there, too, in the aliens’ delusions of supremacy in the other stories. You can if you wish see the theme as building towards its fullest realisation in the brilliant last story. What is certainly true is that there is some very, very fine writing in the 1974 series of Doctor Who, especially in the second and final tales. I don’t think it’s merely expressing a personal preference to say that the writing for Pertwee’s swansong year is massively superior to the standard for the scripts of the first year of Whittaker. I mentioned C S Lewis earlier; as a literary critic, Lewis said that good writing isn’t good writing just because you happen to like it; it’s not what you bring to it, it’s what it does to you. The sophistication of Hulke, Letts, and Sloman is incomparably superior to the work of Chibnall and his pals. And comparing a brilliantly written and acted character like Lupton to an equivalent 2018 baddie like Robertson enables us to draw a conclusion about how Doctor Who as a programme has degenerated so lamentably and even tragically under its current showrunner.
Season 11: What I thought at the time.
Funny thing. I actually remember Season 11 very clearly from when I first watched it in 1974 – to the extent that there are two versions in my head: what I remember from the time, and what I know it was like from seeing it again (and again!) as an adult.
I was born in September 1965, so I was still 8 years old when season 11 was broadcast. My twin brother and I used to go up the road to a family friend’s house so we could watch it in colour; we only had a black and white set at home. (The first time we did so was for Part 5 of Planet of the Daleks, and I can remember being so disappointed that the Daleks were grey and black, just as they were on a black and white set. Mind you, I liked the big gold one with his nice red eyeball. Incidental note: we think of 1970’s Spearhead from Space as being the first colour story, but it actually wasn’t in colour – for most of the audience. Colour televisions cost the equivalent of £2000 in 1970 and most people couldn’t afford them. It wasn’t until 1976 that more than 50% of households had a colour set; we didn’t get ours until the 1980s. And having programmes in colour was so amazing that Radio Times used to mark programmes in italics as “Colour” next to the title. Even Season 11, then, for most viewers, was in black and white.)
What I’ve tried to do here is to write up what I thought as an 8-year-old about the then new series of Doctor Who. This is inevitably a write-up as an adult and I won’t try to use a child’s vocabulary, which would be tedious. Even so, I’ll try to write only what I thought then, 45 years ago, and not to put in anything I thought since.
(We have a club in Bedford called Bedford Doc Soc, which meets once a month, and we discuss a story we all rewatched between meetings. Something I’ve noticed is that people who saw a story when it was first broadcast often have a different perspective on it than people who first saw it years after it was made. Not sure why; it’s worth pondering, though. It can be interesting to look at the views of the original audience; after all, Doctor Who was made, at least until the Eighties, to be seen only once by viewers who watched it soon after it was recorded. It was pretty well made for immediate consumption; no one expected the episodes to be seen decades after they were made.)
Anyway. Here goes.
What I thought of the stories when I was 8, back in 1974.
The Time Warrior
I don’t like the new title sequence; I preferred the old one. Don’t like the colours: too much blue; I liked the red, green, and orange that it used to have. I don’t like that new logo, either; the old lettering was much better. The face of the Doctor was much more reassuring in the old titles than the new picture. And it looks clumsy when the time tunnel is shaped like the Doctor.
This story’s a bit dull. It was quite creepy when the Doctor picked out the monster at the top of the stairs with his black-light torch. The Sontaran’s mask looks daft, and it’s too obvious making the episode end when he takes his helmet off. Some of the guest cast, like that woman in the kitchens and Irongron (David Daker), are over-acted. Wouldn’t they have been speaking French in those days? And did they have potatoes in England then? [Precocious little git I was when I was 8, you see.]
Professor Rubeish (Donald Pelmear) is too silly. I don’t like Doctor Who to be funny; it should be serious.
Wish Jo (Katy Manning) was still in it. I liked her much better than Sarah; Sarah’s very sharp and doesn’t seem to be a very nice person, either. Jo was much nicer. Sarah’s pretty horrible to the Doctor, too.
8 year-old Simon’s verdict: 6/10.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs
This is brilliant. It’s very frightening and I know it’s going to give me nightmares. The tyrannosaurus’ roar is horrible; really scary, which I suppose it should be. The effects aren’t very good; they’re obviously models, though that pterodactyl that attacked the Doctor in the garage looked realistic. You can see the CSO lines on the dinosaurs, too. [Yes, I knew about CSO even then!] That bit when the tyrannosaurus attacked Sarah when she was behind the glass was terrifying. I actually bit through the glass holding my coke at one point with the tyrannosaurus. I had to go out to the kitchen to make sure I’d got all the glass out of my mouth.
These bits with the people on the spaceship are going on too long. When are we going to see some more dinosaurs?
That’s Martin Jarvis. He was Uriah Heep when they did David Copperfield. He’s good.
I liked it when the UNIT troops were shooting at the monsters. Sarah’s not as irritating as she used to be but I still like Jo better. Nice to see UNIT again; I like the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene). The Doctor’s gun looks good.
The ending’s clever. I think the Doctor wasn’t affected by the Professor’s time machine because he’s a Time Lord and he can sort of swim against time when he needs to. Didn’t really realise people caused so much pollution. We shouldn’t really do it but then you can’t wipe people out because they do bad things. I hope the Professor and his people don’t get eaten by tyrannosauruses when they go back into the past. That would be very sad. How are they going to manage living on prehistoric Earth? This worries me.
The primary school where UNIT’s got its HQ reminds me of my school.
Really exciting story. I did have nightmares; dinosaurs, apart from the plant-eaters, are very frightening. I’m quite wary of the tyrannosaurus fossil at the Natural History Museum. But why did their tyrannosaurus have three fingers? They only had two. And his arms were too big, too. Anyway. The bits in the pretend spaceship went on too long. I like the Doctor’s new car but I much prefer Bessie. Even so, the story’s brilliant.
8 year-old Simon’s verdict: 9/10
Death to the Daleks
Brilliant! I love the Daleks. This is really good. Wish Sarah wouldn’t squeak so much when Bellal’s (Arnold Yarrow) talking to her; it’s rude and he’s trying to be nice. Why can’t she shut up?
They’ve changed the colour of the Daleks. Not sure why. The model of the city isn’t very good. I wish the Daleks had ray guns like they had in Day of the Daleks and Planet of the Daleks; normal guns are just so boring and the bangs interfere with the cameras for some reason: you get these lines going up the screen. I like the Root; it looks very good and it was great when it blew the Dalek up, though I felt a bit sorry for him. (A Dalek is a him, not an it, I think. I’m not sure.) The Exxilons look a bit daft. Is Bellal the same as the other Exxilons? He looks different. The bit when the Doctor and Bellal were solving the puzzles was exciting, with the Daleks trying to catch them up. One of the Daleks doesn’t move, which is a bit obvious; there can’t be anyone inside that one. Wonder why not.
A bit scary, this story, but nothing like as frightening as Invasion of the Dinosaurs.
Really enjoyed that one.
8 year-old Simon’s verdict: 10/10
The Monster of Peladon
This is good. I like the Ice Warriors, though not as much as the Daleks, and I really like Alpha Centauri (Stuart Fell, voiced by Ysanne Churchman). King Peladon’s dead and his daughter’s (Nina Thomas) on the throne now; she’s a bit drippy. Sarah’s bossing people about again. Isn’t that the new Doctor Who playing Eckersley (actually Donald Gee, but don’t tell little Simon)? He looks like him. I saw a picture of the new Doctor in Dad’s copy of The Guardian but I can’t be sure it’s him. I’ve forgotten his name.
Nice to see Aggedor back. That bit when the Doctor and Sarah met Aggedor in the cave was quite frightening, but the really frightening thing in this story is the Spirit of Aggedor. It makes a horrible burbly noise and then roars when it appears. It’s going to give me more nightmares. Doctor Who’s very frightening sometimes but then that’s the whole point, I suppose. But it’s much better than Star Trek: their aliens only ever look like people in silly clothes, and that’s lazy. The monsters in Doctor Who are much better and much more imaginative.
A good story. Not as good as the last two but still very good.
8 year-old Simon’s verdict: 8/10
Planet of the Spiders
This is a really, really good story. I know it’s going to be Jon Pertwee’s last one and I’m going to miss him. I hope I like the new Doctor. I can just about remember Patrick Troughton and I liked him, so I expect I’ll get used to the new Doctor; after all, Jon Pertwee was new once.
I prefer 6 part stories to 4 part ones. They’re much more epic.
Sarah doesn’t annoy me any more. She’s got used to the Doctor and she isn’t as rude to him, and she seems less bossy now. I quite like her now, I think. Nice to have Jo mentioned – and that crystal’s back. Professor Clegg’s (Cyril Shaps) funny; it was really sad when he got killed.
I like the monks but I’m a bit confused; is this a Christian monastery? I think it is but I’m not sure; shouldn’t there be statues of Jesus and Mary in it? I can’t see any. They’re nice and gentle people, though. Lupton’s really horrible. Tommy’s a bit odd; why does he keep calling himself “Tom” and “Tommy”? I know he’s very young inside his mind but little children don’t call themselves by their own names; shouldn’t he say “I” or “me”?
Oh, it’s Mike Yates. He’s good. Really like that chase when the Doctor was going after Lupton, though the Whomobile when it was flying wasn’t at all convincing. It changed colour and you could see it was just CSO; big lines around it again. The spiders have CSO lines around them, too. Their voices are really effective and I like the way they’re all female. They look like house spiders – I hate those. The one with Lupton is well done, but some of the others just wobble and twitch; they’re pretty obviously models.
The bits on Metebelis III aren’t as interesting as the bits on Earth. Some of the acting is bad, too. I like the designs, though, especially in the spiders’ base. I got upset when The Great One made the Doctor walk round in circles and I felt very sorry for him when she said, “Is that fear I can feel in your mind? You are not accustomed to feeling frightened, are you Doctor?” When you actually saw her, it wasn’t totally convincing, but it was okay. I was trying not to cry when Sarah was crying when she thought the Doctor was dead. And then he regenerated and it was a different actor lying on the floor. I wonder what he’ll be like. I hope he’ll be good. It seems very strange that Doctor Who isn’t being played by Jon Pertwee any more. But I expect I’ll get used to the new actor. I’ve found out he’s called Tom Baker. After all, I didn’t like Sarah at first and I like her now. Perhaps Tom Baker might even be as good as Jon Pertwee?
8 year-old Simon’s verdict: 10/10
Season 11: What I thought 45 years later…
The Time Warrior
The Time Warrior is very good – and it’s also a story I can never get terribly excited about. I’m not sure why; it’s just never really captured me. It’s as well written as Robert Holmes’s other scripts, it’s got a great monster, a new companion, some wonderful ideas – and yet it all seems a bit flat. Or I experience it as all a bit flat. This probably says more about me than about it. I think.
Lis is much spikier in this than she later became, possibly because the production team thought that feminist (or “women’s libber”, as they were normally called in those days) seemingly equalled aggressive. She’s perhaps too sharp to act effectively as an audience identification figure; at the time, as I said above, I found the character alienating rather than attractive. I suspect a lot of the rest of the audience did, too; certainly, I absolutely adored Jo and rather resented this brash and bossy substitute. The character mellowed over the course of the rest of the season. The Sarah of The Masque of Mandragora is very different from the performance Lis gives here. (Not unusual for long-running characters in science fiction to change; cf Shatner’s Kirk in the later Trek films is much more cuddly – psychologically as well as physically! – than he was in the original series. I digress. While on Masque, do watch Lis’s wonderful performance as nutty / possessed Sarah: she has a crazy psycho smile when she tries to stab Tom. God, she was good. No wonder she’s most fans’ favourite companion.)
I think there are too many silly bits in The Time Warrior, though. The medieval sections vary from being a bit bland to being a bit OTT: Lady and Lord Dot Cotton (Alan Rowe and June Brown) are rather dull, and David Daker is funny but also overdone. (Bob Hoskins, who was first choice for the part, would have been marvellous.)
Fortunately, there’s an amazing performance from Kevin Lindsay. A little later (I think it was later, if my memory serves) he would star as Friendly Neighbourhood Milkman in a series of adverts for the Milk Marketing Board. (“If I were to give you a pint of milk today, what would you do with it?” he asked us all at home, beaming beatifically.) Put Linx, Cho-Je, and the Milkman together, and be gobsmacked by his range. And for all of them, he was putting on an accent: he was Australian.
Feeling mildly guilty about not liking this story as much as I should; others will be more positive and they’re probably right. It’s just that it’s my least favourite of the season.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs
Discussion of this story can begin and end with saying that the effects are poor. They are… though the glove puppet pterodactyl works well. So, I’m going to say nothing about the effects – except to comment they were sufficiently convincing to terrify children in 1974, even when those children knew the dinosaurs were only models.
The script, however, is superb. Once again, Malcolm Hulke doesn’t write in terms of black and white. The “baddies” have good intentions; they’re not motivated by evil, but by morality. The problem is, their morality is flawed and people who don’t subscribe to their worldview can be written off.
Mankind is corrupt. Man (it’s “Man” in the script) pollutes. Man does bad stuff. So, it is expedient for Man never to have existed. Sarah can be killed – with the greatest regret, and with the good of the whole outweighing the needs of an individual – because she doesn’t fit in and is a disruptive influence. Morality justifies murder. (The problem of how you deal with individuals who don’t subscribe to your ideology was one familiar to Hulke: he was once a member of the British Communist Party. Communism puts the needs of the community far above the needs of the individual; it is morally acceptable to kill and to terrorise if the good of the whole requires it. Hulke despaired of extremists, whether communist or democrat; he believed the Cold War could be ended by moderates on both sides recognising the good in their opponents.)
This theme – that people are not black and white, but varying shades of grey – is explored further in the novelisation; if you haven’t read Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, do get it: it’s an absolute delight. Hulke’s Doctor Who novels are always witty and are genuinely moving, too. (The novelisations of the rest of Season 11 are by the mighty Terrance Dicks and, while they’re good, they don’t quite hit the heights occupied by the Hulke book.)
In the novel, Butler is given a livid scar on his face. Hulke added this so the readers would recognise him when he turned up as the chauffeur; all Hulke has to do is mention the scar, and they know who he is (well, Hulke couldn’t say, “Surprisingly, the chauffeur bore a strong resemblance to the actor Martin Jarvis”, could he?). Later in the novel, Sarah goads Butler about his appearance:
“You’d be quite handsome without that scar, you know.”
Over the years Butler had learnt to live with his disfigurement. He had got used to people looking away, pretending not to see it. “I can’t help the way I look.”
“Oh yes, you can. Plastic surgery would fix that. But there won’t be any medicine or operating theatres back in this stupid Golden Age you people dream about. Still, maybe you like being ugly. It makes you look more sinister and criminal. How did you get it – in a fight?”
“Not exactly. I was a London fireman. I tried to save a child that had crawled out of an open window and was stranded on a high ledge. I managed to pass it to safety all right – but I fell thirty feet through a glass roof.” He started to close the door.
Sarah is mortified by what she’s said and tries to apologise, but Butler has gone.
(Is there anything in the standard of writing for the other Series 11 that even remotely compares with this? I think not.)
And the novel adds a prologue. Here’s the first paragraph of the book:
Shughie McPherson woke up that morning with a cracking headache. For a full half hour he lay on his untidy bed and stared at a crack in the ceiling. He was thinking about the muddle which was his life. In his thirty-seven years he had had more jobs than he could remember. He was married once, but that hadn’t lasted long. One day his wife had said to him, “Shughie, you’re a layabout!” Then she’d packed a suitcase and gone back home to her mother. He had never tried to find her.
Shughie has come down from Glasgow to London for the Cup Final. By the time the car arrives there, he’s already drunk; his mates try to rouse him – everyone has to leave the city because there’s an emergency – but he’s too hammered, he refuses to move and they have to leave him. In the house where they’re staying, “Shughie found the six bottles of whisky that were to be his only companions for the next four days.”
Once the food and the booze have run out, Shughie ventures outside. Nobody about. “He started running and shouting. Street after street was deserted, front doors of houses gaping open.” Then he sees a milkfloat and goes round it to find the milkman – “a young man with very fair hair. He lay on his back, mouth open, eyes staring death.” Shocked, Shughie starts to say the Lord’s Prayer over the body, but:
His words were drowned by the sudden roar from the monster behind him. Shughie turned and looked up. A massive claw hit him in the face. In the last moment of life, Shughie McPherson resolved to give up drinking whisky.
The audiobook is read by Martin Jarvis, a stalwart of talking books, and he does it superbly. Do read the novel or listen to it. You’re in for a real treat.
For the TV version, Paddy Russell assembled a stunning cast: Peter Miles of course (adding to his repertory of fanatical scientists), Martin Jarvis, Noel Johnson (Dick Barton on the radio), John Bennett, and Carmen Silvera… The regulars are as fine as ever and Pertwee gives the most comedic performance as the Doctor in his entire run.
Death to the Daleks
This is basically a Hartnell Dalek story with a different cast.
It could easily have been made for 1965. The Earth expedition is straight out of the SSS (or Anti-Dalek Force, as Nation called it in the annuals). The screenplay’s got the same feel to it as The Chase; even though this is better, there’s still a lot of the Doctor and co running around battling whatever peril of the week threatens both them and the Daleks. Something going wrong with the TARDIS is standard Bill fare; it sits less comfortably in Jon’s time, when the TARDIS is much more robust and generally more reliable. And there’s all the standard Nation stuff of an unknown bloke walking towards the camera in the first shot, only to meet a horrible end; a seemingly-malevolent alien who turns out to be benevolent; the Daleks going “hee-hee-hee, this time we will fix Doctor Who for good, you see if we don’t”. You can imagine Nation finding an old ’60s script in his bottom drawer and rewriting it a bit, crossing out “Vicki”, “Ian”, and “Barbara” and giving their lines, very slightly rewritten, to Sarah. I know he didn’t, but if we discovered that was what he actually did, no one would be at all surprised.
That’s all a bit negative. Death to the Daleks is actually a good laugh; it’s a jolly decent romp and it’s very well done, too. It’s a much better script than The Chase, though it’s not as good as Planet of the Daleks from the previous year. The Daleks look (and sound) very good: they’re very well realised here, whereas in the Hartnell era they were only done well in their first story and in The Daleks’ Master Plan. They were pretty badly realised in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase (which, if the Daleks had built their Robot Dr Who out of gypsum, could and should have been called The Daleks’ Plaster Man hahaha [dies, laughing]). But seriously. The Richard Martin solo directed Dalek stories showed he couldn’t really do justice to Skaro’s finest (though his episodes of The Daleks, which were influenced by the tone of Christopher Barry’s episodes, were better); it took the superb Douglas Camfield to restore them to their former glories.
I like Michael Wisher’s Dalek voices. They’re shriller and more piercing than Roy Skelton’s. As a result, his Daleks sound very slightly insane; lots of the time, they’re on the verge of hysteria. (Not surprising either. I wouldn’t like to be permanently trapped inside a little metal box, hooked up to a mobile heart-and-lung machine for thousands of years with no prospect of ever getting out. No wonder they’re so cross the whole time.)
Actually, I prefer Wisher’s rendering; Skelton can rasp so much sometimes that he sounds like Sylvester in the Tweetie Pie cartoons (“You are in the employ of a tttthhhhspattthe power and are ttthhhent here to tthhspy on the Dalekttthhh!”)
Some other good stuff here. The Exxilons look splendid; Mostyn Evans emerges from the mine at Llanfairfach to don the costume and mask of the bonkers High Priest. Sarah’s reaction to Bellal is lovely and shows how much Lis Sladen had thought about the character; in a highly intelligent bit of playing – remember Sarah’s not yet used to meeting aliens – she’s freaked out by him but tries to reign in her terror because she doesn’t want to upset him by appearing rude. The Root works well as an effect. The perils of the puzzles in the Exxilon City are less daft than the perils of the lazily written Chase.
The incidental music, however, appears to have been produced by a flatulent hippopotamus.
Trivia extra! Duncan Lamont, who plays Galloway, was a veteran of British science fiction; he was one of the leads in the very first Quatermass series, way back in 1953. That’s a whole 21 years before Death to the Daleks. In The Quatermass Experiment – the original, not the vastly inferior Hammer film – 3 men go into space in an experimental rocket; only one comes back. Lamont was Victor Carroon, the surviving astronaut who returned to Earth. Episode 1 of this “play for television in 6 parts” (it was so early, it wasn’t even called a series) ends with Quatermass looking around the rocket for Carroon’s companions. The ending goes like this:
Quatermass: They’re not inside.
Paterson: But how? They must have opened the hatch at some time – got swept away –
Quatermass [very quietly]: I’ve checked the instruments. This hatch hasn’t been opened… till now.
Quatermass hurries to where Carroon [Lamont] is supported by Judith, and grips him by the arm.
Quatermass: Victor, where are the others? What happened?
Carroon looks at him, heavy-eyed. He seems to be on the verge of saying something. Then he pitches forward in a dead faint.
Crash in end music. Fade to black.
[Extract from the script book of The Quatermass Experiment, Penguin 1959, p.39)]
Well, you don’t have to look very far to see where Doctor Who got the idea of its cliffhangers from. Quatermass was pillaged wholesale by Doctor Who. Later in The Quatermass Experiment, Carroon mutates into a giant alien plant, a being nicked by Who and renamed the Krynoid.
The Monster of Peladon
Usually written off today. Again, I think people who saw it at the time, in its context, liked it more than people who first saw it decades after it was broadcast. We remembered The Curse of Peladon and we’d enjoyed it, so we enjoyed this sequel too. It was a bit of a re-tread, a bit “Peladon’s Greatest Hits” – but then those hits were good ones and were worth playing again: Aggedor, the big boar-faced bear thing who was frightening but nice, really, and was just a friendly doggie; the sublime Alpha Centauri; the Ice Warriors! Fab! The production team and some fans grumble about bringing back old monsters, but we loved it then. 10 weeks of Daleks and Ice Warriors? What could be better?
Some lovely design, too. Alpha Centauri just shouldn’t work, but it does. That crazy beach ball head with the big plastic eye, the 6 arms, and the fibreglass tube body – well, it’s ridiculous. But it’s not just Ysanne Churchman’s beautiful characterisation that brings it to life; it’s Stuart Fell in the costume, too. He bobs and twitches and flaps, and he really sells us the costume through the performance. Marvellous. But it has 6 arms, not 6 limbs, so it can’t be a hexapod, as Pertwee says. Otherwise it would have no feet. Did it glide along like a slug, or did it have little legs, making it an octopod? I think we should be told. [Dear Editor, please can we make a petition?] [I’ve started a petition, but it has nothing to do with Alpha Centauri – Ed.]
A shame this was the last outing for the Ice Warriors in classic Who; I know they were due to come back in Mission to Magnus, but then Michael Grade stepped in. And I do think the Ice Warriors, like the Zygons, were massively better done in the classic series than in the revival. It’s clear in the Sixties and Seventies that the thing you see on screen is an Ice Warrior; they’ve been augmented, but what you’re looking at is a Martian, a great big green lizard, not a suit of armour for a weedy looking CGI pipe-cleaner man. And NuWho also ruined the voices and got rid of the laboured breathing – both hugely imitable in the playground. (And yes, we did play Ice Warriors at break-time in the Seventies, even though being Daleks was more fun.) And giving them teeth spoilt it, too; much more fun when they had mouths like tortoises. They ruined the Zygon voices as well. Why does NuWho hate whispering aliens so much? Why do they all have to boom and shout? Whispering’s much more frightening.
Monster is not as good as Curse and it’s basically the same story anyway, but I still like it.
Planet of the Spiders
I’ve said a lot about this already. It’s still one of my favourite Doctor Whos.
6 parters can come in for a lot of stick because they’re seen as over-long; yes, the Metebelis bits aren’t as good as the Earth ones, and yes, some of the acting is poor (Jenny Laird is dreadful); contrast to the Earth cast, who are uniformly excellent. Planet of the Spiders is not perfect – it is flawed; it could have been trimmed.
But then, drama can still be excellent even when it’s flawed: Hamlet is also too long, and it too dips in the middle (the sequences when Hamlet’s offstage, written out for nearly an hour so Richard Burbage can have a break and no doubt a pint and a fag round the back of the Globe Theatre, do drag rather). Okay, so Doctor Who isn’t Shakespeare, but you get my point: “too long” need not be a damning feature of a script. I still like the chase sequence. I found it thrilling as a child; contemporary audiences, who inevitably watched Pertwee’s adventures in sequence, would have found it huge fun. They were used to seeing the Doctor charge around in bikes, boats, and cars, and would have just enjoyed the extended action sequence. Again, it’s the different experience between seeing the programme on first broadcast, and watching it decades later, probably out of canon order, and applying judgements informed by anachronistic views. (There had only been 11 years of Doctor Who in 1974, not 56. The previous stories also existed only in memory or in the very few Target novels then available. You couldn’t then judge a story by comparing it to the knowledge gained by multiple viewings on DVD or Blu-ray.)
Pertwee had been the Doctor for 5 years: longer than either of his predecessors. He’s totally at ease in the part for his final season, and totally convincing. For an example of just how good he was, look at the beautifully written and acted vignette of Sarah’s discussing giant spiders and saying how mad it all is – as though she were discussing pussy cats or anything else mundane. “Well, they’re just as real,” says Pertwee calmly, abstractedly sipping tea as he sits, sad and quiet, in the background of the shot. Pertwee’s Doctor is a real person. By contrast, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is a performance, not a person. She could not play that scene with anything like the conviction Jon brings to it; another example of how the character and the programme has degenerated. At our second Bedford Who Charity Con, Katy Manning recalled the advice Jon had given her about acting in Doctor Who: “We’ve got to take this absolutely seriously. Because if we don’t take it seriously, no one else will either.”
And yet it’s easy to forget that, when he got the part in 1969, it was a very, very odd piece of casting. In 1969, Pertwee was thought of as a comic, not as an actor.
A total contrast to his predecessors. Hartnell was primarily a distinguished film actor, generally playing heavies and thugs (for the best example, do take a look at Hartnell in the 1948 film of Brighton Rock: his performance as the gangster Dallow is stunning). Troughton was a chameleon of an actor who could play almost anything; he had been starring in television series since the Fifties. The first two Doctors were primarily known for acting in straight drama – and then they cast someone who was (almost) entirely known for comedy: known as a versatile and very talented comedian, but not as a “serious” actor. Contrary to what everyone would have been fully expecting, that comedian went on to give the straightest and most serious characterisation of the Doctor, both then and now. It was a huge departure for Pertwee as a performer, and a huge surprise to the audience, who’d have been expecting the new Doctor to be a crazy, very funny, and very energetic nincompoop. The surprise to the contemporary audience must have been enormous. I suppose the nearest we could get to it today would be to cast someone like Harry Enfield as the Doctor, and then to find he played it totally straight – to our astonishment, but to our huge appreciation as well.
It became fashionable in the 1990s to write Pertwee’s Doctor off. He was a toff, a Tory, a snob. Sadly, some of this negativity spilled over into personal attacks on Jon himself, as though ’90s fans couldn’t distinguish between the actor and the character he played.
But it has to be said: the 5 years of Pertwee’s Who is almost uniformly good; Doctor Who never managed that before, or since. Every other Doctor, from Hartnell to Whittaker, had some rotten stories; Pertwee’s reign didn’t. Even the less good stories like The Mutants and The Time Monster are still pretty good. The best are superb; some of the very best adventures ever made came from this period. Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks may not have produced anything quite as outstanding as Genesis of the Daleks (though it should be remembered that they commissioned it!) but they knew what they were doing, and they have a strong claim to be the best showrunners the programme has ever had, rivalling even the Hinchcliffe/Holmes partnership.
The Third Doctor was not a Tory; he moved at ease among the establishment but he never embraced it. Rank, deference, or petty snobbery among squabbling humans was of no interest to him. A snob? To some extent, but that was because he wasn’t human. Jon Culshaw has said that Pertwee always sounds “very slightly impatient”. He does. It’s almost as though the Doctor is sitting on his impatience with people who are exponentially less intelligent than he is; he doesn’t give full vent to his impatience because he doesn’t want to be unkind. He only lets rip when people are fools or are morally corrupt. Like Troughton before him, he’s capable of moral outrage. He tells the Controller of Earth Sector One exactly what he thinks of him – and then is generous and compassionate to him when the Controller shows a hint of humanity.
It’s been said that it’s well to remember that the Doctor is a Time Lord. He’s not a plebeian; he comes from the ruling class of Gallifrey. Pertwee’s Doctor is probably the most lordly of all his incarnations but he’s not aloof from humans; he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s posh, but that doesn’t mean he writes people off if they aren’t. He’s as much at his ease talking to miners in Wales and on Peladon as he is with Draconian emperors and princes (and you actually suspect he prefers the former).
Jon Pertwee was one of the great Doctors. Planet of the Spiders gives him a fitting swansong.
Dedicated to Terrance Dicks (1935- 2019).