A Brand New Man: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Four

We’re back, and with a brand-new Doctor! Not to mention some new companions.  But first, a bit of long-overdue explanation:  As I make these rewatch posts, I often mention comparisons between the classic series and the revived series (or as I sometimes call it, NuWho).  To keep things clear, I’m using the same terminology favored by the show itself; that is, classic series seasons are termed “seasons”, while NuWho seasons are termed “Series One, Series Two”, etc.  Now, down to business!

Brand new doctor

A Brand-New Doctor!

We begin with the third serial of Season Four, having just said goodbye to the first Doctor. (For the first two serials, see my last post.)  He wakes up a new man—literally—in The Power of the Daleks, much to the consternation of Ben and Polly.  The version I watched was a total reconstruction, as none of its six episodes remain intact.  That’s a common—and annoying—theme for this and the next two seasons, but it’s at its worst here in Season Four; not a single complete serial is available.  It was interesting to see the Doctor’s own reaction to his regeneration; after all, it’s his first time.  He seemed to have a little trouble adjusting, something that happens often with him—you’d think he’d get better with experience, but no.  I’m not sure if regeneration is just hard, or if he’s just terrible at it.  As I watch these serials, I usually keep the wiki open, just to keep track of notable items; here, it notes that “his head is filled with the sound of drumming.”  Just a throwaway line, not necessarily even noted in the episode, but so interesting given the Master’s sound of drums in NuWho.

Daleks Assembly Line

No, I don’t suppose you would like some tea, after all.

If you’ve been following, you’ll note that I often see parallels between Classic Who and NuWho episodes. This one strongly reminds me of Victory of the Daleks, as you have Daleks ostensibly serving humans and trying to accrue advantages so that they will be in a position to attack, with humans buying into it against the Doctor’s urging to destroy the Daleks.  (Later they even serve drinks; all I could think was “WOULD-YOU-LIKE-SOME-TEA?”) You also have the Doctor in both instances trying to provoke the Daleks or otherwise make them lose control.  I can’t blame the writers for trying to break new ground with the Daleks; this is the first Dalek story not written or co-written by creator Terry Nation.  It will still be some time before they really move on, though; for example, they still require static electricity (stored instead of external, but still), indicating that these are early Daleks, from prior to Season Two’s The Chase.

Not a screwdriver

Not a screwdriver.

I’ve often heard comparisons between the Second Doctor and the Eleventh (Matt Smith has been noted to have drawn inspiration from Troughton’s performance). We’re already getting that in little ways; most notably, the now-famous bowties (they were already cool!).  Unfortunately, some things prominent in NuWho just aren’t there yet—in episode five, the Doctor tries to reproduce a sonic signal (by rubbing his finger on a glass) to unlock a door.  Sure would be useful if he had some kind of sonic device…nah, that’s just crazy talk.

Jamie M

Welcome aboard, Jamie

The Highlanders gives us Scottish clansman Jamie McCrimmon, the longest-running male companion in the show’s history.  He gets off to a rough start, but I can’t blame him; it’s a lot to take in for anyone, and he was under strain before the serial ever started.  He grows on me in later serials, though; Frazer Hines was a talented actor, at least in this role.  This is the final historical until 1982’s Fifth Doctor serial, Black Orchid; it’s also the final historical in Classic Who to use real events, namely, the Battle of Culloden.  It’s a sound story, but not very remarkable; but to be fair, I’ve often been bored with the historicals.  We can definitely begin to see the Doctor being a more active participant here, as opposed to the First Doctor, and more cunning as well; in particular, there’s the scene where he disguises himself as an old woman to rescue Kirsty MacLaren and Polly.  His famous abhorrence of weapons is mentioned here, as well, in one of the earliest (if not the earliest) times it is actually noted aloud.

the underwater menace

Okay, it was a weird serial.

Jamie’s first complete serial as a companion arrives with The Underwater Menace.  It’s set in Atlantis (one of three appearances in Classic Who, along with Season 8’s The Daemons and Season 9’s The Time Monster, though all three contradict each other) but with a twist:  it’s Atlantis’s rediscovery, set in the 1980s.  I started to like Ben in this episode, after a considerable period of just tolerating him; he seems much more pragmatic and useful than Steven, whom he replaced, and who never seemed to find a niche.  He and Jamie are a good team, but they are unfortunately and unfairly very condescending to Polly.  We get to see the Doctor be a bit more humane here; he wants to rescue the mad scientist Zaroff, even though he can’t.  By contrast, the First Doctor might well have left him to die.  There’s a theory (available on Reddit, see link at the end) that the Doctor didn’t adopt that name until Ian gave it to him in An Unearthly Child, but that the Doctor drew inspiration from it and wants to live up to it.  If that is the case, we can see it developing here.  One last note:  Though the Doctor never calls himself Doctor Who, he does skirt close to it sometimes, and that happens again here; he signs his note to Zaroff as “Doctor W.”.

cybermen-moonbase-doctor-who

Cybermen just wanna dance!

I watched the animated partial reconstruction for The Moonbase, for which two episodes are intact.  It wasn’t bad; it’s a weird mix of animation-appropriate comedy mixed with the level of seriousness that would have been evident in the original, and as a result, sometimes it’s hard to get an idea of which elements are faithful to the original.  This serial is hardly the first, but is perhaps my favorite example of the “base defense” plot that has since become so popular; it reminds me of NuWho’s 42, despite the slower pace.  The serial is a bit primitive in its view of what the moon is like, but not by much; that’s appropriate, given that it was made a year or two before the moon landing.  It’s also the first of many stories that involve the moon—by coincidence I had watched The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon the night before watching this serial, so the contrast was interesting.  The plague on the moonbase staff is reminiscent of the black oil infection from The X-Files.  The story is set in 2070, and that’s not entirely unbelievable, as it appears now that we may have the ability to put a base on the moon by that time.  The Cybermen have progressed from their last appearance; they can now transmit electricity to stun or kill, and they also take a page from the Daleks’ book (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) in controlling human workers.  The Doctor theorizes that the human workers are being controlled by some kind of sonic signal…sure would be useful if he had some kind of sonic device.  Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

The Macra Terror

Aww, how cute!

I had been looking forward to The Macra Terror ever since I saw its far-removed sequel, Gridlock.  It has a new title sequence, thus beginning the long tradition of title sequences that include the Doctor’s face.  Many Doctor Who stories are dystopias, but this one is a prime example; there’s the element of a society that seems idyllic on the surface, but underneath it’s a form of tyranny and slavery.  I would compare it to The Long Game/Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways in Series One, set on Satellite 5.  I don’t recall if it was mentioned in Gridlock, but these intelligent Macra appear to be considerably smaller than the brutish Macra of that episode.  It’s clear here, as well, that being a companion is a dangerous life; in addition to the obvious physical dangers, here we see Ben get thoroughly brainwashed, which could easily have been permanent.

The Faceless Ones

Goodbye, Ben and Polly

The Faceless Ones felt out of place to me—it was a very Third Doctor episode, in my opinion.  Totally speculation, but I like to think it may have inspired some of his stories.  This story of alien identity theft (how progressive!) is very physical compared to most, and very modern (or contemporary, I should say).  Ben and Polly leave us here, choosing to go home on the same day they left with the Doctor, but that doesn’t slow the story down.  It’s just a fun story, with no big new concepts introduced (even where they would be useful!).  Notably, at one point the Doctor and Jamie get held up due to lack of passports…sure would be a good time for some paper that makes people see what they want to see.  Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

Evil of the Daleks

An Emperor Arises

A second Dalek serial in the same season? Sign me up!  Better enjoy it though; The Evil of the Daleks is the last major appearance of the Daleks for the next five years.  They appear to have finally escaped their dependence on static electricity…no, wait, I was wrong; it’s the static electricity research that drew them to Earth in the first place.  Oh well.  Truly there’s nothing new under the sun:  After the wild recent popularity of the “hybrid” storyline in Series 9, and the red herring of the Dalek hybrids, it’s interesting to see that the Daleks were trying to hybridize themselves (with humans in this case) as far back as Season 4.  It’s also interesting that they choose Jamie for their experiment because, as they say, his travels with the Doctor make him the most intrinsically human…um, human…in the universe.  Forgetting for a moment that that makes no sense at all, it’s also contradicted in NuWho, where travel in the TARDIS changes humans to one degree or another.  At any rate, they’ll continue experimenting with hybrids for years—note the Cult of Skaro, and the Dalekised humans in The Time of the Doctor.  Maybe it’s a product of their adoption of a Dalek Emperor, who first appears here, and will continue to recur.  Interestingly as well, the Daleks can successfully threaten to destroy the TARDIS here, despite being from well before the Time War, which the Tenth Doctor credits for their skill at fighting TARDISes.  Usually the TARDIS is well-nigh impregnable, or so we’ve seen thus far.  But I think we can handwave this by saying that the Doctor at this point isn’t “in tune” with the TARDIS enough to use all its functions—he’s still learning—and that may include its defenses.

Victoria Waterfield

Welcome Aboard, Victoria!

We close out the season with the introduction of new companion Victoria Waterfield. What?  A female companion with a canon last name?  That doesn’t happen often!  Victoria doesn’t get much screen time, so it remains to be seen how much potential she has.  We’ll look forward to it in Season Five.  I’ll see you there!

Interested in the theory I mentioned regarding the Doctor’s title?  Check it out here!

(Nearly) 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.

The Power of the Daleks

The Highlanders

The Underwater Menace (YouTube; does not include episode three, which appears to be unavailable online.)

The Moonbase

The Macra Terror

The Faceless Ones

The Evil of the Daleks

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