After eight years on the air, and racking up over 300 episodes, Doctor Who was entering a new season without major cast or crew changes for the first time. In each of the previous seasons, something new or different happened in the actors or head creative staff, but here now, with Jon Pertwee and Barry Letts entering their third seasons as star and producer, things remained very much in place. A strange place to be, for sure, but it was this cohesion, and this relative ease of transition between Season 8 and Season 9, that allowed the new year to take some chances, both narratively and visually. Season 9’s first three stories do, or at least should, rank among the Third Doctor’s best, while the two that follow are known primarily for their shortcomings. While one is certainly worthy of the ridicule, the other might not be.
Season 9 – January 1st, 1972-June 24th, 1972
To begin the season, after a whole year of the Master, Barry Letts brought back some very familiar baddies that hadn’t been seen since 1967: The Daleks. Writer Louis Marks had already written a story that contained no Daleks, but when it was decided that the season needed a hook to bring in viewers, he quickly added them and the story became Day of the Daleks.
The story begins with Sir Reginald Styles, a British diplomat organizing an historic peace summit to try to prevent World War III, who is in his study when a camouflaged man sporting a futuristic pistol bursts in and holds him at gunpoint. However, before anything more violent can occur, the man suddenly disappears, and Styles believes he’s seen a ghost. However, he recants this when the Chinese (a regular player in these Third Doctor stories) pulls out of the conference and Styles has to fly to Peking to try to convince them otherwise. The Doctor, Brigadier, and Jo Grant, along with UNIT, all go to investigate and help Styles not get murdered. Another guerilla shows up, only to get killed by big hulking mercenaries called Ogrons. The Doctor examines the dead guerilla, sees that the weapon he brandishes is made from Earth materials, not alien, and that he has a device on him that when examined causes the body to disappear.
It turns out this was a portable time travel device and the Doctor determines that someone from the future is traveling back in time to kill Styles, presumably to assure WWIII occurs. The guerillas, however, have returned to prevent the war and the subsequent to-shit-going of their future. But Styles is so pro-peace; how could he be a threat? Well, that has something to do with the beings who rule Earth in the future: The Daleks! They have employed the Ogrons as gophers and stop the guerillas. Confused yet? Well, Jo ends up getting captured and taken to the future, so now the Doctor, who still has issues with the TARDIS, has to get her back AND stop the Daleks AND make it so the future doesn’t go belly up. Whew.
I adore this story. It’s one of the only classic stories that actually deals with time travel as a concept and the changing of events. It’s sort of like a precursor to The Terminator a bit, with its circular time logic. In it, we get the first mention of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, which is a poppycock way of explaining why it’s bad for time travelers to impede themselves (hint: it’s to do with universe implosion). There’s tons of action in the story as well, including a big gun battle at the end with UNIT, the Ogrons, and the Daleks all exchanging fire. The downside here are the Daleks themselves, who aren’t voiced properly due to nobody around really remembering how they sounded. All in all, though, it’s a supremely enjoyable beginning to the season, and in many ways the high water mark.
After the clash with the Daleks, the Doctor and Jo are again taken to a distant planet in the TARDIS, this time the medieval-style Peladon in the aptly named The Curse of Peladon. The heroes are on the planet for about one second when the TARDIS falls off a cliff, meaning the Doctor and Jo are stuck there until they can find someone to help them. They make their way to a castle in which the Chancellor has just been killed by a ferocious beast, which the fear-mongering High Priest Hepesh. Complicating matters is that the young King Peladon (David Troughton, Patrick’s son) is having a gathering of the Galactic Federation in an attempt to join, and the death of a Chancellor within palace grounds certainly won’t help matters.
The Doctor and Jo arrive and are taken to be the delegates from Earth, which they don’t try to correct. King Peladon is immediately smitten with Jo and spends a good deal of the story attempting to get her to marry him. The different members of the Federation, including the one-eyed and irritating Alpha Centauri and a Martian delegation of Ice Warriors, want to get to the bottom of the Chancellor’s death. Surely, it can’t be the mythical creature Aggedor, could it? As is usual for these types of stories, the Doctor is believed to be the culprit and has to defend himself in the arena by fighting the mute champion of Peladon. The Doctor is certain the Ice Warriors are behind all of this, but can’t prove it. Eventually, he does meet Aggedor, which is a beast, but one that he can fairly easily calm by singing a Venusian lullaby. The bad guy (it’s the High Priest, you guys) is eventually revealed with the help of the Ice Warriors, and the Doctor and Jo are permitted to leave.
This story by Brian Hayles (the creator of the Ice Warriors) is the prototype to stories that would come to populate a lot of Tom Baker stories that followed: an alien civilization of humans that behave in customs very similar to Earth’s past. It’s a pretty ingenious idea, really. Plus, having the Doctor and Jo walk into what is essentially an alien murder mystery really allows the Doctor to do some sleuthing, which up to this point his Third iteration hadn’t gotten to do all that much. The Galactic Federation allowed for some colorful characters, some that even look like huge pieces of genitalia. So that’s fun. Bringing the Ice Warriors back to act as the de facto villains, only for it to be revealed that they’re innocent, is also a lovely subversion of expectations.
This story also allows Jo the chance to step up a bit and have a storyline of her own. She’s completely flattered by the handsome king’s offer, and the two engage in philosophical debates about policy and things to mask the undercurrent of learning whether or not they can cohabitate. It’s nice, if a little melodramatic at times. But, on the other hand, they’re both young people, and emotions tend to be of Shakespearean proportions. We’ve seen Jo get into scrapes before, and we’ve seen her be brave and even at times resourceful, but we’ve never really seen her think about her future in such a way, and it’s pretty refreshing.
Returning to Earth for the next adventure, The Sea Devils has the Doctor and Jo off to an island prison, which is the new home of the Master (Roger Delgado), who has been here since his capture in “The Dæmons.” They’re somewhat pleased to see that he’s doing well and that, while he certainly would escape, he knows he can’t, so he’s content to stay. As they leave, the prison’s governor tells them that ships are mysteriously being attacked, which makes the Doctor want to investigate. While examining one such vessel, the Doctor and Jo are set upon by a large bipedal lizard which a terrified crewman calls a “Sea Devil,” which is actually an aquatic cousin of the Silurian. They are able to escape to a nearby sea base, and they tell Captain John Hart of their findings, which he discounts immediately.
The Doctor then finds out that the Master, with the help of the misguided prison governor, has been stockpiling electrical equipment in order to create a machine that controls the Sea Devils. He wants to use them as an army in order to, you guessed it, control the planet. A large scale battle for the prison occurs (including a super awesome extended sword fight between the Doctor and Master), at the end of which the Doctor and Jo are forced to flee back to the sea base. Hart tells them that a naval submarine has been captured and the Doctor investigates only to be captured by the Sea Devils. He again believes he can broker a peace between the reptilian civilization and the humans, but now the Master is in the way. He escapes at the end of this one.
“The Sea Devils” is a whole lot of fun, with some excellent direction and terrific nautical action sequences, including boat and Ski-Doo chases and some fairly decent submarine miniatures. Like “…and the Silurians” before it, “The Sea Devils” was written by my favorite writer, Malcolm Hulke, who employs a lot of his patented tricks, including an exploited indigenous people and pig-headed military higher-ups and bureaucrats. However, it’s much more action-based than his previous stories (perhaps a remit from Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks), so it lacks much more depth (no pun intended) than that. Still, Hulke writes some terrific verbal sparring between the Doctor, and the Master and Captain Hart makes a wonderful naval counterpart to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The production got support from the actual Royal Navy, and as such all the visuals look very believable. It’s a fun, fun story.
The Doctor and Jo get another unwanted Time Lord-motivated TARDIS trip in The Mutants which takes them to the 30th Century Earth Empire colony of Solos, which is in the process of being decolonized by the Overlords, who rule it from Skybase One, which orbits. The militaristic Marshal objects to the decolonization plans sent by the Earth Ambassador and is also more than a little obsessed with eradicating all of the mutants, called “Mutts” by the Earth people, which have sprung up on the planet in the last several years. The native Solosians are tribal and are either adamantly opposed to the occupation or are secretly in league with their imperialist rulers. The Doctor and Jo arrive and get acquainted with the situation, finding that Solos is uninhabitable to humans after sundown due to poisonous gas and that the Marshal and his chief scientist are planning to terraform the planet to make it habitable for humans, even at the expense of the native population.
The Doctor teams with Varda, a native Solosian who collaborates with the imperials but has learned of their treachery, and try to convince members of the security force that bad stuff is going on aboard the station. The Marshal begins to release poisonous gas, but it’s undone by Sondergaard, a fugitive Earth scientist who’s keen to keep Solos for the Solosians. The Mutts, despite being fairly hideous and hulking, aren’t nearly as scary as they seem. The Doctor has to keep all this tension at bay and stop a genocide.
With an overtly political story such as this one, you’d expect a writer like Hulke to have written it, but instead it was the work of Bob Baker and Dave Martin. They raise some very interesting and damning points about British imperialism and colonialism and about racism in general, but especially pertaining to the indigenous peoples of the places being colonized. There’s definitely some interesting themes and notions at work here, but it’s unfortunately kept down by some utterly garbage performances by the guest cast. I mean, they’re seriously nigh-unwatchable in some cases. The worst of these is probably Rick James (no, not that one), who plays Cotton, a security officer who becomes part of the resistance. He’s badly miscast, but it was nice to see in 1972 a black actor with lines in Doctor Who who wasn’t a mindless henchman. But, you guys, he’s really very bad.
And, to wrap up this season, we have possibly one of the worst stories ever written and produced for Doctor Who and certainly the worst of Jon Pertwee’s tenure. That story is The Time Monster, written by Robert Sloman and Barry Letts, though, like all their scripts, only Sloman is credited. I’m not going to try to fully explain the story, because, frankly, I don’t really understand it myself, but it has something to do with the Master posing as a university professor who makes his students help him in creating Transmittal of Matter through Interstitial Time machine, or TOMTIT for short. Yes, there is a thing in Doctor Who called the TOMTIT machine. He’s trying to gain access to Kronos, a very powerful Chronovore, the titular “Time Monster,” which was one of the ancient gods of Atlantis. For little to know reason, the Kronos often appears in the form of a guy in a bird costume. At some point, they all end up in Atlantis in which the Queen (Ingrid Pitt) believes the Master stupidly and badness befalls her.
It’s seriously one of the dumbest and most mind-numbingly awful stories I’ve ever watched. I don’t even really care to give it another go; I’ve watched it twice and that’s more than enough times. It’s weird that Barry Letts, one of the people in charge of the whole series, apparently had no idea what the show is, and almost actively tries to make something that doesn’t fit the tenets of it. It is shocking just how stupid and inept just about every aspect of the story is. And it’s six parts! It goes on FOR EV ER.
So, one and a half crappy stories aside, Season 9 had three and a half good-to-great stories that are highly recommended as the meat of the Pertwee era. We’re more than halfway done with the Third Doctor already, which is a bit sad given how much I adore watching his stuff, but the next time we reconvene here, I’ll get to talk about the milestone 10th Season, which gives us more than one Doctor, a trip aboard a shrunken ship, a real space opera, some more boring Dalek stuff, and an environmental parable featuring giant maggots. The first decade-marking anniversary sure does leave a hell of a mark.