We’re back, with part two of Doctor Who, Season Three! I’ve already established that this season has me at my most longwinded, so let’s get right to it. Last time, we left off with the sixth serial of the season, The Ark; this time, we begin with The Celestial Toymaker.
My experience with these early seasons (prior to this rewatch, at any rate) has been minimal; but all the same, this serial reminded me strongly of a Second Doctor serial, The Mind Robber. In both serials, you have a villain who, though not definitively malicious, is self-centered and capricious; as well, both villains display an unearthly degree of control over their world and the things that happen in it. It’s truly a battle of wits, as the Doctor can’t use the TARDIS or any other advantages—all those things are stripped away. Instead, he must purely outthink his opponents. He does so, of course, and in spectacular fashion, turning the villain’s own tools against him; we are beginning to see that the Doctor is much more than simply intelligent—he’s cunning as well. From what I understand, we’ll see much more of that under the Second Doctor. As for the Toymaker, I couldn’t help wondering what he really is. He’s very much a Time Lord-type villain (reminiscent of the Monk, but much more intelligent), but his actual origins aren’t discussed. I am aware that several spinoff works exist, which establish him as some sort of higher being from a different or earlier universe; if that is the case, it could put him on a level with the Animus from The Web Planet, or the Great Intelligence, who have also been stated in prose and audio sources to be Great Old Ones from a previous universe. It’s worth noting that the original intent of the writers was that he be the same race as the Doctor and the Monk, but this was never spelled out onscreen.
I haven’t done well with the historicals, but I found The Gunfighters interesting, because I had just watched the film Tombstone, which covers the same events. I persuaded my girlfriend, who is not generally a classic Who fan (though we are watching the new series together), to watch this one with me, as Tombstone is her favorite movie. She called it “goofy”, and I can’t argue with that, as it’s clearly intended to be comedic. It is the final First Doctor historical, and nearly the final historical of the decade (we get one more in next season’s The Highlanders, and then no more until Black Orchid in 1982). It takes some drastic liberties with the historical facts; for example, Doc Holliday was much younger than portrayed (and also dying of tuberculosis), and Bat Masterson was not actually present in the town of Tombstone, although he did later have some unrelated involvement with Holliday. You can start to see some discord between Steven and Dodo here, as well; they were never really a pair the way Ian and Barbara were (or even Steven and Vicky), and I felt as though they would not have gotten along well under any circumstances, let alone traveling with the Doctor. I know they part ways in the next serial; I wish they had stayed longer, as that semi-adversarial relationship could have made for good television—it was almost a kind of sibling rivalry. One final note on this serial: If I have to hear “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon” ONE MORE TIME…
With the next serial, The Savages, we get another minor change to the show’s format; individual episodes no longer get titles of their own. It’s just as well; can you imagine 26 seasons of trying to title every episode? This serial gives us at least the second time that the Doctor’s lifespan/life force has been tampered with (the first was his premature aging in The Daleks’ Master Plan). This time, he recovers thanks to the D403 medicine on the TARDIS. It begs the question of how his regeneration energy plays into this; and though the concept hadn’t been finalized yet, the production team had started to play with the idea, as they nearly changed actors during The Celestial Toymaker. We also see echoes of this issue in Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, when Davros takes some of the Doctor’s regeneration energy and creates hybridized Daleks; here in The Savages, it’s already clear that absorbing some of the Doctor’s energy also means taking on some of his traits. Here we also get Steven’s exit from the show, as he becomes the new leader of the combined group. I get that, behind the scenes, this assumption of leadership is the device that allows him to leave the show; but from a plot standpoint, it makes no sense to me. They want him to lead them because of his rational head and wise decisions…it’s like they don’t even know him at all.
With Steven out of the picture, we soon meet the next companions, Ben Jackson and Polly Wright, in The War Machines. (Like several other companions, Polly received no onscreen last name, but the audition materials listed her as “Polly Wright”, and the name has stuck in the spinoff media.) I went into this serial knowing nothing about them other than that they existed. I wasn’t sure what I expected. However, Ben’s very first appearance involves a fistfight; I’m testing my recall, but I don’t think we’ve seen that level of physicality in a companion since Ian. Of greater interest is the villain, the supercomputer WOTAN. WOTAN can think (AI in the 1960s?); its chief claims to fame are that it can think faster than humans, and type faster, feats which are incredibly basic by modern standards. Interestingly, they played down the fact that WOTAN is hypnotic; it seems to me that that ability would be much more remarkable in any era. As well, it knows the meaning of the word TARDIS, which seems unlikely even within the show. Infamously, WOTAN directly refers to the Doctor as “Doctor Who”; this is the only time it ever occurs in the series’ history, though the phrase is often used as a bit of an inside joke in NuWho, most famously as the oldest question in the universe. I had heard of this use by WOTAN prior to watching, and thought it was a one-off incident; but as it turns out, it happens several times in the serial, both by WOTAN and by the humans under his control. One last thing: I was especially fond of the scene in part 4 in which the Doctor stares down the War Machine. It was fantastic; reminiscent of so many scenes in the new series where the Doctor stares down his enemies (“I. Am. TALKING!”). Perhaps this is a glimpse of the Oncoming Storm in embryo here? Even though the machine backs down because of failed programming rather than intimidation, it’s very dramatic.
I’ll admit: I had trouble with The Smugglers. To be honest, it bored me. It’s worth noting that much later, it becomes an unofficial sequel to the Eleventh Doctor/Series 6 episode, The Curse of the Black Spot. That episode is concerned with the fate of James Avery and his crew; this serial reveals the fate of his remaining crew members, who are searching for his lost gold. I recall not being particularly impressed with Curse, either; it was perhaps the low point of Series 6 for me. The Smugglers is known for its low ratings, so perhaps it’s not just me.
We end with The Tenth Planet. Along with The Smugglers, it actually occurs in Season 4; as I mentioned previously, this is the rare instance where a regeneration didn’t coincide with the end of a season or series, and I wanted to include the First Doctor’s final two adventures with Season 3. I had been looking forward to this serial for a long time, just as I had with The Daleks’ Master Plan: The Cybermen! The first regeneration! What’s not to love? The original Cybermen look hokey by today’s standards, and of course their appearance changes often throughout the original series; still, they are scary by any measure, if for no other reason than their outlandishness (tell me you wouldn’t run if you met one in a dark alley!). It stretches credibility quite a bit that their homeworld of Mondas would like just like the Earth (although flipped north-south!). The idea of a twin planet is plausible, but it would certainly not have the same landmasses. The Z-bomb that the humans intend to use to destroy Mondas consists of several bombs to be places at intervals on Mondas’s surface; it presages the Osterhagen Key from The Stolen Earth. Mondas is eventually destroyed on its own when it absorbs too much energy from Earth; that seems odd, if the planets are true twins—shouldn’t it have been capable of holding the same energy as Earth? Also, there are no observable ill effects of this energy loss on Earth, which seems questionable at best.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the first audiences to see the Doctor regenerate. I think it’s appropriate that this first instance didn’t occur at a season break; I could imagine fans saying “What was THAT all about?” and wandering off, muttering about how the show has gone downhill. With only a week until the Second Doctor makes his first full appearance, I imagine there was a sense of suspense that we, today, can never quite duplicate, especially in the world of spoilers and leaks. Personally, I have seen very few of the Second Doctor’s serials (only two, The Mind Robber and, much later, The Three Doctors), so I’m fortunate enough to have some of that suspense to look forward to. The Doctor will truly be a different man next time I see him. The famous line about “wearing a bit thin” would be later reused by the War Doctor, which I find fitting; he truly was, but I can’t think of a better ending for either of them.
On to what I consider the true beginning of season four, and the Second Doctor!
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below. Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.