After five seasons on the air, and already racking up over 200 episodes thanks to the heavy serialization, Doctor Who was approaching the end of the 1960s and another big change. The 40+ week schedule was taking its toll on Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, though you certainly wouldn’t know it from his performance, which continued to be nuanced and interesting even if the story wasn’t. However, Season 5 proved to have much more uniformity in quality than the previous one; it was also very uniform in types of story. Season 6 would be all about shaking things up. Not only was a new companion added at the end of the previous year, but a new producer, Peter Bryant, and a new script editor, Derrick Sherwin, also came aboard at that time. Halfway through, a second new script editor, Terrance Dicks, also joined the team. By the end of the year, everything onscreen would change as well.
Season 6 – 1968-1969
As enjoyable as Season 6 is (helped in no small way by the fact that nearly all of the episodes exist), it didn’t start with the best story. Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln had written Season 5’s two excellent Yeti/Great Intelligence stories, so asking them back only made sense. It would prove, however, to be their final story for the show, and one for which they didn’t even take credit, as huge swaths of it were re-written by Sherwin and a pseudonym of “Norman Ashby” was attached to it. That story was The Dominators.
On the peaceful planet of Dulkis, the Dulcians (who have the word “dull” right in their name) are passive to the point of indolence and refuse to realize the traveling conquerors, the Dominators, are not people who will play nice. The Dominators have henchbots called Quarks, which are basically boxes with legs and a head shaped like Sputnik. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive and get caught up in the shenanigans.
The general concept of this story isn’t terrible, but it’s very poorly realized. The Quarks were clearly (and admittedly) Haisman and Lincoln’s attempt to create an enduring baddie like the Daleks and not doing it very well at all. Sherwin’s hatchet job on the script was so severe that the 6 part story became a 5 part story, necessitating an episode be added on to the story.
That next story, The Mind Robber is one of the most inventive and surreal adventures of the entirety of the series. Credited to Peter Ling, but again re-written heavily by Sherwin, “The Mind Robber” is a genuine classic. In the first episode, the TARDIS, having narrowly escaped being covered in lava at the end of “The Dominators,” finds itself in the middle of nowhere, literally a big, empty, vacuous void. The companions each think they see their respective homes on the viewscreen, which makes them want to investigate; however, it’s all just a ruse. But a ruse from who and for what?
After that very sparse and cryptic first episode (which ends, quite famously, with be-catsuited Zoe atop the TARDIS console. Yup.), they find themselves outside of space and time, in, what they soon learn, is the Land of Fiction, where characters from stories exist outside of their respective tomes, but can only speak in the words given to them by their authors (though that is not 100% accurate if you pay attention to what they say). These include Lemuel Gulliver, Rapunzel, Medusa, and the Karkus, which is a weird, kind of stupid character that Zoe knows about but no one else does. She kicks its ass.
One of the best pieces of happenstance ever to occur in Doctor Who happened during “The Mind Robber.” Actor Frazer Hines (who plays Jamie) fell ill with chicken pox and had to miss two weeks and, therefore, two episodes. However, because the story took place in a place with rules outside those of the normal universe, they were quickly able to write a scene where the Doctor finds a cut-out of Jamie with the face missing and, puzzle-style, he has to put him back together. Only, he does it wrong and the person who materializes IS Jamie, but doesn’t look like him. This gave them the ability to cast actor Hamish Wilson for the weeks Hines couldn’t appear but didn’t have to lose Jamie altogether. Genius.
“The Mind Robber” is one of the best stories in the early years of the show, due in no small part to how super weird it is. This was followed by eight weeks of one of the most-grounded stories that would be the blueprint for the five seasons to follow. That story is The Invasion, written by Derrick Sherwin along with Cybermen creator Kit Pedler. The reason for the length of this story, and another late in the season, is due to other commissioned stories falling through, but it results in two of the finest examples of the show’s ingenuity.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land in present-day London and want to find their old friend Professor Travers from the Yeti adventures to help them repair the TARDIS’ visual stabilizer, which is leaving it invisible. Travers is not around, however, but his colleague Professor Watkins is, along with his niece Isobel. However, Watkins is missing too, Isobel says, after having worked at International Electronics, a shady but successful technologies company. An investigation leads them to the head of the company, Tobias Vaughn (Kevin Stoney), a megalomaniac with designs on world domination and mechanical immortality.
Vaughan and his underhanded activities catches the attention of the newly-formed military outfit known as UNIT, headed up by Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) now promoted to his more familiar rank of Brigadier. UNIT and the Doctor begin to work together to figure out who Vaughn is working with, which turns out to be Cybermen. Wouldn’t ya know it? They begin to invade (hence the title), and we get some excellent military action on the streets of London, plus the very famous shot of the Cybermen marching by St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“The Invasion” is eight parts, but is really more of a combination of two sets of four. The first four are a proper Cold War spy story with a bit of sci-fi thrown in, and the second four are all Cybermen and diverting the world’s complete overtaking. It’s long, but I, for one, never get bored watching it. It also sets the stage nicely for the UNIT years to come, or at the very least for Season 7. Two of the eight episodes are missing; however, those episodes have been animated using Flash for the DVD release and are bloody brilliant.
After “The Invasion,” while Sherwin and Bryant were busy worrying about hither and thither, new script editor Terrance Dicks commissioned a little four-parter to slot in to finish the first half of the season. It was by a new writer to the series, but one whose name you probably already know, and should know if not, because he would go on to write more than anyone else in the whole of the Classic Series. That writer’s name is Robert Holmes, and his first contribution is the interesting, though not fully developed, The Krotons.
On a craggy planet, the humanoid Gonds who live underground are the subjects of the mysterious Krotons. Regularly, the Krotons give the best and brightest Gonds a test, and those who pass are taken away to a better life doing great work for the their masters. However, as the Doctor and company find out, the chosen get their minds wiped and are essentially slaughtered outside of the complex. When the heroes go in to tell the Gonds what they’ve found, they’re (of course) immediately believed to be evil and filthy creatures from the outside world, but then convince the Gonds they’re on the up-and-up, and the Doctor and Zoe (both brilliant people) attempt to figure out what the Krotons really want. All the while, the Gonds squabble with themselves about the right course of action and don’t get much accomplished, as the smartest of them have been systematically removed and killed for generations. It’s a decent story and gets a much worse rap than it deserves.
This was followed by a throwback to the “base under siege” type of storytelling of which the Troughton era had been almost exclusively composed in its first year. The Seeds of Death is a tense but talky story with a lot of people in the base being scared. Originally written by Brian Hayles, the story had to be heavily rewritten by Terrance Dicks because Hayles went on vacation. It sees the return of the Ice Warriors, as they attempt to take over a base on the moon with a trans-mat beam that takes people back and forth to Earth. The Ice Warriors and their leader, the Ice Lord Slaar, want to control the weather on Earth so that they can send a deadly fungus down via the T-Mat and kill off the human race.
This is a good, if not revolutionary, story that sees the first return of the Ice Warriors and has the famous scene where Patrick Troughton is being overtaken by the ever-growing fungus, which is really just soap bubbles. He sells the ridiculousness of the scene, even if Wendy Padbury (Zoe) can be seen laughing at one point.
With only just the six weeks of “The Seeds of Death” as a break, Robert Holmes was back to write the penultimate Second Doctor story, The Space Pirates. Only one episode (episode 2) exists of the original six, but I can’t imagine seeing the story would make it any more entertaining. It’s intensely dull, is what I’m trying to say. It’s all about the titular baddies making life miserable for the Earth Space Corps, the Issigri Mining Company, and the eccentric old Milo Clancey as they pillage the cosmos. The worst part of it all is that the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie are barely in it, and when they are, they’re almost always away from the main plot. This is almost assuredly due to the actors needing time off, but their absence is felt quite a lot. You can’t blame Robert Holmes for this. Well, you could, but that’d be unfair. As much as it’d be great to see any missing story found, if this one ended up being last, I don’t think anyone would mind.
The season ends in an epic fashion, however, and all TEN of these episodes thankfully remain intact. The War Games was never intended to end the 1960s, but more story problems necessitated that it keep being stretched and expanded until it eventually reached its 10-part length. Dicks and his mentor Malcolm Hulke (whose name will be all over the Pertwee years) were behind this engaging, interesting, twisty, and ultimately very weighty story. It begins with the crew landing in the middle of World War I, in a trench. Things are not as they seem, though, and they attempt to get away from the war, only to find the Roman Legion advancing not far away. It turns out they aren’t on Earth at all; some alien race has abducted soldiers from Earth wars and are forcing them to fight continuously in simulated environments for the purposes of study.
The Doctor eventually tries to break the brainwash of these people and they begin to rebel. Eventually, the Doctor recognizes a member of his own race, the Time Lords (finally named), calling himself the War Chief and being behind much of the carnage. The War Chief is not the mastermind though; that distinction belongs to the War Lord (the tremendous Philip Madoc), who would sooner see every specimen die than relinquish his war gaming. The Doctor, seeing no other alternative, contacts the Time Lords, though it could mean his incarceration, to intervene and end this hideousness. After sorting out the War Lord and his cronies, the Time Lords put the Doctor on trial. They return Zoe and Jamie to their respective times and remove the memories of all but their first adventure with the Doctor from their minds. This is especially sad for Jamie, who now will never know Victoria or Zoe or really even the Doctor.
The Doctor makes his case that the Time Lords shouldn’t just be observers, that there is a lot of injustice and wrong being perpetrated through space and time and that it’s up to them to do something about it. While the Time Lords disagree, they do see that the Doctor has done good and will continue to do so. They sentence him to exile on his beloved planet Earth, removing his knowledge of how to pilot the TARDIS, and are forcing him to regenerate (or “change his appearance” as the term “regenerate” had yet to be named). The story, season, tenure, and decade closes on a mysterious and downbeat note, with the Second Doctor fading away into blackness as his face begins to change. Jon Pertwee had yet to be cast, so they really had no idea who it would be, just that it wouldn’t be Troughton anymore.
Patrick Troughton is, sadly, the Doctor most affected by the missing or wiped episodes, but those scant few stories we do have prove that he was utterly brilliant in the role, and set up the whole tend of having the actors be quite different from each other yet still the same character. Troughton is without doubt one of my favorite Doctors, and it’s a joy to watch the precious few stories we have.
By the end of the ‘60s, the times were a-changing indeed for Doctor Who. When it returned in 1970, it would barely resemble the show fans knew, and would take a little while to get back to that a bit. As a cost-saving measure, the Doctor was now forcibly placed on Earth, he’d have about half as many episodes, but he’d be in color for the first time ever. When we reconvene next week, we’ll be talking about what is my favorite whole season of the show and arguably the best of the whole first 26.