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Thursday, 26 April 2012

Doctor Who Season 6 (1968/69): The road to Gallifrey

We're in your city, killing your dudes
The archival situation is a bit better here – of the 44 episodes, 37 are complete and another two have been officially ‘restored’ via animation. In fact, every story bar one is ‘intact’ in the archives, so I’ll stop discussing episode availability unless needed (a couple of Pertwee stories are not complete in colour).

Patrick Troughton had decided to do three years and call it done, but there were other issue behind the scenes. Bryant and Sherwin had to produce the two-part broadcast pilot for a show called S P Air that didn’t go to series (and about which I can find nothing – one assumes it’s been junked). Then Bryant had health problems, putting Sherwin increasingly (and then formally) in charge and making Terrance Dicks script editor.

This season is generally a bit uneven. For every classic, you’ve got a clunker or an average effort.

The Dominators (5 episodes)

Reduced from six episodes to five by Sherwin, which resulted in the two writers, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, insisting the story went out under the pseudonym Norman Ashby. A tale involving the TARDIS crew having to persuade a group of pacifists to resist some aggressive aliens and their deadly robots (the Quarks, who would make some later comic strip appearances[1]). Generally held as a bit of mess – audience research at the time was not kind to it. I can hardly remember it.

The Mind Robber (5 episodes)

Expanded from four episodes to five at short notice (Sherwin wrote the first and arguably the best episode un-credited), resulting in some rather short episodes, this trippy tale sees the TARDIS crew trapped in “The Land of Fiction”, meeting such public-domain fictional staples as Rapunzel and the Minotaur. It also has Jamie change actor for two episodes via a very good in-story reason as Frazer Hines had come down with chicken pox.

While perhaps primarily remembered for one particular shot of Zoe at the end of Episode One, it’s a real classic.

The Invasion (8 episodes – 1 and 4 are missing, but were recreated with only minor changes by animators Cosgrove Hall for the DVD release, so this story must be called complete)

Another classic story, with the iconic image of the Cybermen near St. Paul’s Cathedral (see above), I personally found it a tad slow for my liking. The Cybermen try to invade Earth (with the help of a couple of memorable human villains [Packer!]) and the Doctor teams up with the newly created UNIT, headed by the newly promoted Brigadier to stop them. Very high production values (and MOD cooperation) mean there is a lot of action here.

This is also Terrance Dicks’ first time as script editor.

Terrance Dicks

Terrance Dicks (1935-) must be considered one of Who’s elder statesmen. Spending almost six seasons as Script Editor (this and the entire Pertwee era), he also novelised a considerable number of the classic stories for the Target Books range, wrote six TV stories himself, contributed a number of original novels during the hiatus years and also did some direct-to-video stuff of which we’ll discuss much later.

While I don’t personally agree with his “all Doctors are essentially the same” approach, his contribution to the show is pretty much unmatched, certainly by anyone still living.

UNIT Dating

OK, people, follow me here a second:
·         “The Abominable Snowmen” takes place in 1935
·         “The Web of Fear” takes place roughly forty years later, so c.1975
·         “The Invasion” takes place four years after that, c.1979
·         Ergo, the Third Doctor and Fourth Doctor UNIT stories must take place in the early 1980s.
·         There is a whole slew of technology in the shows that was not in existence at the time (video phones, BBC3, laser weapons, trips to Mars from a British space programme[2]…) and in-jokes about political events, e.g. a Prime Minister called “Jeremy” a reference to then Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe[3].

However, wait a second…
·         Most of the cars on screen have near-contemporary licence plates.
·         Mao Zedong is still alive as of “The Mind of Evil” - he died in 1976.
·         Sarah Jane Smith says in “The Pyramids of Mars” that she’s from 1980.
·         There is pre-decimal currency in use in “Doctor Who and the Silurians”. The UK went over to decimal currency in 1971.
·         In “Mawdryn Undead”, the Brigadier retired from UNIT in 1977 and was teaching at a public school in 1983!

The production team avoided mentioning on screen dates to avoid potential continuity problems, but what this resulted in is a rather large conundrum that taxes fans to this day and has actually resulted in a few jokes on the subject turning up in various media (including “The Sontaran Stratagem”)

The Krotons (4 episodes)

The first story penned by Robert Holmes, one of the show’s most celebrated writers (of whom we’ll talk more about later), this reasonable story sees Team TARDIS help a slave race overthrow a crystalline alien race. Also features a mind probe [No! Not the Mind Probe!].

The Seeds of Death (6 episodes)

The return of the Ice Warriors, this story (which I really must see the end of) sees the Martians try to take a futuristic Earth using a teleporter network.

The Space Pirates (6 episodes, only Episode 2 survives)

A regular-light story by Robert Holmes, this “space western” (over 30 years before Firefly) involving a conflict between some pirates and law enforcement.

The War Games (10 episodes)

Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks end the era of the Second Doctor in style. The crew arrive in what they think is the Western Front in 1917… in reality, it’s part of a training world for one of the Doctor’s own people, who is out to conquer the universe. Haven’t actually seen all of this, but the last three episodes are some of the most significant in the show’s history.

With the situation getting desperate, the Doctor calls in his own people, the Time Lords (first named here). They deal with the problem, but then take the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to their home planet (as yet unnamed). Jamie and Zoe are sent back home, their memories of all bar their first stories erased. Meanwhile, the Doctor is convicted of illegally leaving his home planet and “meddling”.

His sentence: exile to Earth in the 20th century and a forced regeneration…

Season 6B

There is a narrative gap between the Doctor’s sentence and the start of Season 7, in which the Third Doctor is seen for the first time. A lot of things including the Doctor knowing about Jamie and Zoe’s fates in “The Five Doctors” mean he must have had further adventures after “The War Games” – a number of “expanded universe” works also suggest this. It’s widely believed by fans that the Doctor actually did some work for the Time Lords’ Celestial Intervention Agency before being sent to Earth - the so-called Season 6B.

****
The decision to change the show to an Earth-based one with the Doctor in exile was basically budgetary – the money wasn’t stretching. Unable to match Star Trek (making its first UK airing during the season gap), they decided to have the monsters come to the Doctor in near-contemporary Earth.

The Doctor was going to be getting a job with UNIT…

[1] We’ll be discussing the “expanded universe” of Who (comics, audio dramas, novels and video games etc.) between Season 26 and Season 27 – i.e. between talking about the classic and new eras.
[2] In reality, the United Kingdom has only launched one satellite (Prospero) on its own. All other British space activity has been under the auspices of the European Space Agency and the five British nationals who have gone into orbit went up either in the Space Shuttle or a Russian Soyuz.
[3]The February 1974 general election actually produced a Hung Parliament (no party having a majority), with Labour gaining most seats, but only second place in terms of the popular vote.

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