For its first few weeks, Doctor Who was a strange little tea-time sci-fi show, but after the Daleks rolled their way into children’s homes, forcing them to hide behind the proverbial sofa, it was a bonafide hit. After only 7 weeks’ break after Season One, Season Two got underway on Halloween 1964. The ratings for the first new episode nearly doubled that of “An Unearthly Child” less than a year earlier. On average, Season Two had the highest number of viewers until Season 14. At this point, Doctor Who was nothing short of a phenomenon (doot-dooo-de-do-do).
With Season Two, we had the first new companion (and the second, incidentally), the first new Time Lord (though we didn’t know he was called that at the time), and two more entanglements with those shrieking salt shakers. It took a lot of strange and interesting chances in its storytelling, and largely began to shape the way the show would end up in years to come. So, it was a pretty important season, I think you’ll agree.
SEASON TWO – 1964-1965
As was very common both on British television and with Doctor Who as a show, the first story of the second season was actually the last story filmed in the first production block. It’s also one of the weirdest stories the Hartnell years produced. “Planet of Giants,” written by Louis Marks (remember his name once the ‘70s rolls around), was scripted and shot as a four part adventure but was spliced into a three-parter once Sydney Newman decided it was boring. What we’re left with is a bit uneven, but is actually quite effective, if you get beyond the silliness of oversized props.
After accidentally opening the doors to the TARDIS before it’s done dematerializing, it and everything in it shrinks to its relative size of “tiny.” Landing on the far end of someone’s back garden, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan realize they’ve been made miniature just in time for the two teachers to be picked up in someone’s bag and taken into the house, leaving the two Gallifreyans to try to get to them. While this is going on, in the “larger world,” there’s a murder plot involving a seedy pesticide manufacturer attempting to go ahead with a product that isn’t safe. So, the four tiny heroes have to solve a murder and get the culprit arrested whilst being the size of a matchstick. It’s bonkers, but actually a lot of fun. At one point Barbara gets dosed with some of the pesticide and tries to hide it from her friends. It’s some of Jacqueline Hill’s best stuff, and that’s saying something.
Once they’re enlarged to show texture yet again, they go to the center of London, which appears deserted and bombed-out. If it’s weird and apocalyptic, it must be “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” by Terry Nation, the second Dalek story. This time, instead of being on Skaro way in the future, the Daleks have laid siege to Earth in the near-future; 2164-ish to be exact. In a story that echoes the London Blitz and the Nazis even more than “The Daleks” had, Nation gives us resistance groups, wartime trading, people selling out other people for food or goods, and Daleks doing their version of goose-stepping.
From a purely story point of view, and even some of the visuals (the Dalek rising out of the Thames, another on Westminster Bridge, and several making humans march along railroad tracks), “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is an absolute triumph. Its themes and characters are rich and interesting. As a six-episode serial, though, it tends to fall into the same kind of trap Nation’s scripts often do, which is that there’s a lot of running back and forth, getting captured and escaping, in between the excellent bits. It also doesn’t help that Richard Martin’s direction is almost uniformly dull, making even the most dynamic parts of a story seem stale and uninteresting. Still, with the exception of “Genesis of the Daleks,” which we’ll discuss several weeks from now, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is probably Nation’s best.
The story is also incredibly important in that it showed us that the show could change from a character perspective. During the serial, Susan began spending time with Earth revolutionary David, and the two eventually fall in love. Though she’s still a child, the Doctor tells her to stay with him and be happy (in the desolate future) with him. Behind the scenes, Carole Ann Ford was unhappy with the rather boring and repetitive scripts for her character, often making her nothing more than the screaming damsel. She even twists her ankle in the first minutes of this story. Whether or not it makes sense for the over-protective First Doctor to leave his granddaughter in an unsure future, it meant that the series was ever in flux, that changes in the cast didn’t have to mean the show would end. This would become an even more important point later in the season, and in years to come.
Following Susan’s departure, in a quick two-parter called “The Rescue” by script editor David Whitaker, a saddened Doctor, along with Ian and Barbara, now pupil-less, lands on the planet Dido, named so for its constant mid-range crooning. That was a joke. At any rate they, meet two survivors of a space crash, Bennett and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) who live in fear of a Didonian beast called the Koquillion. This is basically a Scooby-Doo story on Doctor Who. Scooby Who if you will. It’s nothing more than that, but it does introduce Vicki, who becomes the first new companion and, as a young girl, takes the place of Susan. Rather more effectively, I hasten to add.
Vicki’s first proper story is one of my favorites. “The Romans” was written by incumbent script editor Dennis Spooner and was the first time the program played with any kind of real comedy. It’s half Roman farce, half Roman adventure. We pick the travelers up after having spent the last several weeks in a villa outside of Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. Vicki, who’s only just joined them, is eager to go adventuring, and talks the Doctor into exploring the city of Rome. Meanwhile, Ian and Barbara (who are CLEARLY more than just friends at this point) keep lounging about only to be assaulted and captured by traveling slave-traders and taken to disparate places to be sold.
The rest of the story is a strange but really enjoyable mixture of the Doctor and Vicki in a classic mistaken identity story while narrowly missing crossing paths with Ian and Barbara who are attempting to free themselves from slavery. Emperor Nero is portrayed as both terrifyingly insane and laughably inept in equal measure, depending on who he’s talking to, and the story even gives a bit of a joke reason for the great Roman fire. I think this story is fantastic, and cements Spooner as one of my favorite writers of the series. More with him later.
It’s unfortunate that we go from “The Romans,” which is inventive and interesting and has no sci-fi elements, to “The Web Planet” which is the opposite of each of those things. Perhaps it’s inventive; it depicts a planet wherein the ant-like Zarbi, under the mind control of something called an Animus, wreak havoc on the butterfly-like Menoptra. This is a story I’ve only seen once, so I won’t try to be too harsh on it, but the costumes are very silly and, at six parts again directed by Richard Martin, it’s easy to nod off while it’s on. Perhaps shamefully, “The Web Planet” is the only existing Season Two story I don’t own on DVD.
Another story I’ve never seen all of, because two of its four episodes are missing from the archive, is “The Crusade,” written by David Whitaker and directed by the great Douglas Camfield. It’s astonishing how much things can change from week to week. Another pure historical, this gets the TARDIS crew mixed up with Richard the Lionheart in his religious war against the Saracens in the 12th Century. It’s an interesting year when the historicals are almost categorically better than the sci-fi stories, but this is the case with Season Two. Episodes two and four are currently missing, but a really terrific reconstruction of the whole story using existing audio and screen shots exists on the “Lost in Time” DVD set. We’ll talk a lot more about these kinds of stories next week.
Following “The Crusade” is the four-part “The Space Museum,” which is a very strange story by one-off writer Glyn Jones. After landing on the planet Xeros, the crew realizes they’ve jumped a time track, making them invisible to the inhabitants. They wander around until they find a massive museum run by the militaristic Moroks and the native Xerons who work for them. They find interesting exhibits, including the shell of a Dalek, but they are disturbed to find themselves frozen and on display. This interesting and troubling premise gives way to a considerably less engaging story of getting separated, evading capture, helping a persecuted people, and fighting a badly-masked double of the Doctor. Seriously, that guy is CLEARLY not William Hartnell. Ian, Barbara, and Vicki should be ashamed that they even considered it was him. As far as first episodes go, though, “The Space Museum” has one of the best.
Penultimate for the season is another Dalek story. They sure knew on which side their bread was buttered, eh? Terry Nation’s next six-parter, “The Chase,” attempting a wholly different angle and tone from his first two. Instead of being set in a single location with Daleks running the show or attacking a group of people, they’ve decided to strike the Doctor by following him all throughout time and space. It’s like the early Doctor Who version of the “33” episode of Battlestar Galactica. Only, you know, a lot sillier. Once the chasing begins, they go all over the place, from the Empire State Building to a spooky house populated by Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, to aboard the Mary Celeste, to a jungle populated by large, hostile fungus.
On this last planet, Mechanus, the crew encounters robots that look a bit like jagged Epcot Center balls, the Mechanoids, as well as marooned starship pilot Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), who had been stuck there for two years. He’s been a prisoner of the Mechanoids almost that entire time and is eager to help the TARDIS crew escape. At the end of the adventure, it seems as though he’s been killed.
After yet another encounter with the Daleks, Ian persuades the Doctor to teach him how to pilot the Daleks’ time ship so he and Barbara can finally get home. The Doctor is, naturally, a bit put off by their desire to leave, but ultimately decides it’s time. Ian and Barbara land in London in pretty much their own time, 1965, so they’ve been gone two years, and decide that’s good enough. The last we see of them are a montage of still images of the two school teachers, really the heart and soul of the show, going back to their simple, though forever changed, lives. And probably they get married. Also, this story featured a clip of The Beatles performing, which you won’t find on the US DVD, unfortunately.
With that huge change occurring, it was important for the final story of the season to cement William Hartnell’s Doctor, now the last remaining original cast member, as the undisputed lead and hero of the series. Luckily, he gets one of the best scripts in Dennis Spooner’s “The Time Meddler.”
Distraught after the departure of Ian and Barbara, the Doctor and Vicki are surprised to learn that Steven, who did NOT die, in a Tiny Tim-like twist, stowed away aboard the TARDIS. They help him get back to health (and clean-shavedness) and he essentially becomes part of the crew, though he categorically doesn’t believe the TARDIS can travel through time. To prove it, the Doctor lands them sometime in the past, as evidenced by a Viking helmet they find. Steven is still unimpressed and so the Doctor decides to go off and explore. They are, all the while, being spied upon by a monk (Peter Butterworth), a monk with anachronistic belongings. After pretending to be a feeble old man, the Doctor is able to finagle some information out of a kind peasant woman. He learns that they are in England in the year 1066, sometime before the Vikings invade and well before William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion at the Battle of Hastings. Steven is still unwilling to believe they’re in 1066, not leastwise because they encounter a native wearing a wristwatch.
It turns out the Monk (also known as “The Meddling Monk”) is another member of the Doctor’s race and is using his own TARDIS (newer than the Doctor’s, as he’s from a later period in Gallifrey time) to go around Earth’s history and change things. He’s here in 1066 to use a rocket launcher to destroy the Vikings before they even arrive, thus allowing Britain’s King Harold Godwinson to be in the right area and prepared for William the Conqueror’s attack meaning the Saxons would remain in power. That’s a pretty big chunk of human history that would be changed were he to succeed. The Doctor, along with Vicki and Steven, has to prevent this and make sure history takes the proper course.
I love this story for so many reasons, but not least of which is because it’s really the first time I truly feel like Hartnell’s Doctor is the Doctor we now know. He’s smart, he’s canny, he’s forthright, he takes charge, he outsmarts his opponent, and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty if need be. Spooner, in my opinion, wrote the First Doctor better than just about anyone and is responsible in no small way of shaping the show for its future. In the Monk, we have the first other member of the Doctor’s race besides Susan and the first renegade we see who is not a good guy. He’s also not entirely a bad guy; he’s more of a trickster, an imp who’s out to have fun. Certainly, he’s not like the Master or the Rani, whom we’ll meet later on. He also has a TARDIS of his own, the first one of those we get to see. Steven is an excellent companion and he with Vicki and the Doctor make one of my favorite crews. It’s also the very first pseudo-historical, in which real Earth history is coupled with science fiction elements. In a couple more years, this would be the way historical stories were done forever after.
At the completion of this story, producer Verity Lambert stepped down as the head of Doctor Who, having safely secured her place in television history. Season Two took a great deal of risks but also reaped a great many rewards, garnering the highest ratings and most UK-wide acclaim it would have for quite some time. Sure, some of the stories aren’t the best, but the ones that work do so incredibly well. There are some certified classics in the bunch and some others that are at least notable if not the very best.
A great deal of change and turmoil would hit the show for the next year or more, and the future of the series hung in the balance. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the bulk of seasons 3, 4, and 5 are missing from the BBC archives due to “wiping,” the process of erasing tapes of old programs for use in the future, and as such I haven’t seen a whole lot. Only four stories from the three seasons exist in their entirety, and only 40 of the 128 episodes during that period are around. As such, the next installment of this series will talk about all three of these seasons in a much more broad overview, discussing the existing stories where available, and filling in the gaps where not. Perhaps someday these missing episodes will be discovered somewhere, but as of yet, they have not been. But, that’s for next time, space travelers!