The Doctor and The Master: the best of enemies

“That’s my best enemy. He likes to be known as the Master.” – The Third Doctor

On the Doctor Who television series, the Daleks are often referred to as the Doctor’s greatest enemies.  However, our eccentric time traveler also has another arch-foe, an adversary of a more intimate nature, his personal bête noire: a fellow renegade Time Lord known as the Master.

The character of the Master was created in 1970 by Doctor Who script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Barry Letts.  Having compared the relationship between the Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to that of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, they then contemplated who his Moriarty would be.  The two of them devised the Master, a fellow Time Lord of the Doctor’s who was also in exile, but one without morality or conscience, who had devoted his existence to the acquisition of power.

The relationship between the Doctor and the Master has always been complicated and dysfunctional.  Not only did they come from the same world, but they also attended university together, and at one time were even close friends.  But then something occurred to sour that friendship, and they became bitter enemies.

We first saw the Master on television in “Terror of the Autons,” written by Robert Holmes and broadcast in January 1971.  Portrayed by Roger Delgado, the Master was already an infamous criminal.  Appearing regularly on the series throughout the next three years, the Master led a succession of alien menaces to attack the Earth, where the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) was temporarily exiled by the Time Lords.

Master Roger Delgado

On the surface, the Master’s goal seemed to be one of conquest.  But underneath it all you got the impression that he was causing all of this death & destruction primarily to annoy the Doctor.  In “Terror of the Autons” the Master ostensibly comes to Earth to aid the Nestine Consciousness in a second attempt to invade the world.  But in fact the Master spends the majority of his time not working to advance the Nestine scheme, but rather repeatedly attempting to kill the Doctor via all manner of complex, sophisticated death traps & ambushes.

The second story to feature the Master, “The Mind of Evil,” had the renegade Time Lord utilizing an alien mind parasite that could psychically kill people by manifesting their greatest fears.  When the parasite is accidentally turned on the Master himself, the results are illuminating: it appears that the Master’s worst nightmare is of the Doctor scornfully, mockingly laughing at him.

In the next serial, “The Claws of Axos,” at one point towards the end of the story it seems that the destruction of Earth by the energy vampire Axos is unavoidable.  The Doctor briefly appears to agree to work with the Master in order to escape the seemingly-doomed planet.  Although skeptical, the Master was also rather pleased at the idea that the Doctor was ready to abandon both humanity and his principles in order to save his own skin.  Of course this was just a ruse by the Doctor to trick the Master into assisting him in defeating Axos.

Following that, in “Colony in Space” written by Malcolm Hulke, the Master is seeking control of the Doomsday Weapon, a device capable of destroying entire planets.  The Master wishes to blackmail the entire universe into obeying him.  And when, after five episodes of padding, the Doctor finally catches up with his foe, the Master, instead of attempting to kill him, surprisingly offers to divide control of the universe between the two of them…

The Master: Doctor, why don’t you come in with me? We’re both Time Lords, we’re both renegades. We could be masters of the galaxy. Think of it, Doctor. Absolute power. Power for good. Oh, you could reign benevolently. You could end war, suffering, disease. We could save the universe.
The Doctor: No, absolute power is evil.
The Master: Select carefully, Doctor. I’m offering you a half share in the universe. You must see reason, Doctor.
The Doctor: No, I will not join you in your absurd dreams of galactic conquest.
The Master: Why? Why?!? Look at this. Look at all those planetary systems, Doctor. We could rule them all!
The Doctor: What for? What is the point?
The Master: The point is that one must rule or serve. That is a basic law of life. Why do you hesitate? Surely it’s not loyalty to the Time Lords, who exiled you to one insignificant planet?
The Doctor: You’ll never understand, will you? I want to see the universe, not to rule it!

This scene is well scripted by Malcolm Hulke.  It is also played extraordinarily well by Pertwee and Delgado.  Throughout the entire exchange you can see the Doctor contemplating the Master’s offer, mulling it over in his head, weighing the pros and cons. Likewise, the Master is genuinely perplexed that the Doctor isn’t being won over.  As the argument continues, the Master becomes more and more frustrated.  He just cannot comprehend why the Doctor isn’t willing to accept what to him is so readily apparent about the nature of the universe and existence.  When the Doctor finally rejects the proposed partnership, the Master is absolutely furious, and in the very next second he is once again quite ready to kill the Doctor in cold blood.

So, even from the start, it was obvious that there was a lot going on beneath the surface when it came to the relationship between Doctor and the Master.

There are definite similarities between the Doctor and the Master.  They are each brilliant, charismatic, sophisticated, and arrogant, as well as not altogether sane.  But the Doctor has a conscience, a sense of right & wrong, an appreciation for the lives of others, things totally absent in the Master.  One can look at the Master and see that he is the Doctor completely unencumbered by any sort of empathy.  The Master is a sociopathic figure who casually uses and discards others, who finds amusement in manipulation and murder.

Master Peter Pratt

Dicks & Letts had planned to write one last story featuring the Master that would explore his exact relationship with the Doctor, an epic swan song for Roger Delgado to go out on.  These plans came to naught when in June 1973 Delgado tragically died in an automobile accident.  The character of the Master quietly disappeared until 1976, when the Doctor was now being played by Tom Baker.

Resurfacing in “The Deadly Assassin,” a serial written by Robert Holmes, the man who had scripted the villain’s first appearance, the Master was now a very different individual.  Somehow having used up all of his regenerations, the Master, portrayed by Peter Pratt, was now literally a walking corpse.  Seemingly driven on solely by willpower, the Master conceived a brilliantly apocalyptic scheme to renew his regeneration cycle, a plan that would have destroyed his home world of Gallifrey.  Part of this plot required a patsy to be framed for the assassination of the Time Lord President.  The Master’s ally / pawn Chancellor Goth protests that using the Doctor for this was too dangerous, and they could have manipulated anyone.  To this the half-decayed Master stubbornly replies…

“Noooo, we could not have used anyone. You do not understand hatred as I understand it. Only hate keeps me alive. Why else should I endure this pain? I must see the Doctor die in shame and dishonor! Yes, and I must destroy the Time Lords! Nothing else matters! Nothing!

Even at the apparent end of his existence, the Master cannot let go of his rivalry with the Doctor.  His will to survive is equaled by his obsession with humiliating and then killing his old foe.

The Master next appeared in “The Keeper of Traken” in 1981, still in his grim reaper incarnation, now played by Geoffrey Beevers (who would later reprise this incarnation in several of the Big Finish stories).  It was Beevers who observed that this incarnation of the Master, stripped of all his charisma, cultured airs and good looks, was “the essence of the creature,” revealed to all the world as an insane, hateful, murderous figure of death.

Master Anthony Ainley

At the end of “The Keeper of Traken” the Master perpetuated his existence by seizing control of another living being and merging his form with his victim.  As played by Anthony Ainley, he was rejuvenated into a form physically similar to Delgado, although now rather less charismatic, and certainly much more feral & insane.  Still unable to regenerate, the Master embarked on a series of highly implausible, convoluted schemes to further extend his life and generate chaos & destruction.  And no matter what he got up to, the Master always had to drag the Doctor into the proceedings in order to brag about his latest scheme before once again attempting to kill his longtime opponent.

Even after being exterminated by the Daleks, the Master found a way to survive as an ectoplasmic snake-like entity.  Causing the TARDIS to crash-land in San Francisco in late December 1999, this remnant of the Master once again engaged in body-snatching, possessing an ambulance driver named Bruce (Eric Roberts).  Knowing that this human form would not last long, the Master unsuccessfully sought to take over the body of the Doctor (Paul McGann).

The Master, reborn with (appropriately enough) a rather reptilian persona, manipulated the misguided teenager Chang Lee into helping him gain access to the TARDIS, telling the young man that he regarded him like a son.  Later, though the Master quite casually murdered Chang Lee, as well as the Doctor’s friend Grace Holloway.  Understandably enough the Doctor was outraged by these deaths, and he angrily shouted “You want dominion over the living, yet all you do is kill!”  To this the Master’s only response was a snarled “Life is wasted on the living!”  During their struggle, the Master was sucked into the Eye of Harmony and once again seemingly destroyed.

Master Eric Roberts

By the time David Tennant was playing the Doctor, it was revealed that the Master had been resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War against the Daleks.  Instead the Master had fled to the end of time itself and transformed himself into a human being, losing his memory in the process.

Arriving at the end of time, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) encountered Professor Yana (Derek Jacobi).  A brilliant but absent-minded scientist, Yana was a kindred spirit to the Doctor.  The two of them got along brilliantly… at least until the Doctor’s companion Martha Jones recognized Yana’s broken fob watch as a chameleon arch, something which the Doctor himself had also once utilized.  Her interest in the “watch” led Yana to open it, restoring him to his true identity: the Master.  The kindly, benevolent grandfather figure was instantly supplanted by an icy, arrogant, ruthless murderer who shot his long-time assistant Chantho in cold blood.  Before she succumbed to her wounds, Chantho also shot the Master.  Mortally wounded, the Master regenerated into a new, younger body (John Simm).

It is certainly telling that the Master, stranded at the end of time and stricken with amnesia, became a figure very much like the Doctor.  And once he regenerated, the Master, as played by Simm, was very much an evil reflection of the Tenth Doctor, possessing many of his qualities and habits, but none of his positive attributes.

Master Derek Jacobi

By this point, despite their long enmity, the Doctor was desperate to mend the shattered friendship he once had with the Master.  It appeared that he and the Master were the only two surviving Time Lords, the rest of their race having perished in the war against the Daleks. Unfortunately the Master, who had always been decidedly unbalanced, was now barking mad, totally unwilling to listen to the Doctor’s entreaties.

In “The Last of the Time Lords,” captured by the Master, the Doctor is reduced to a feeble old man, unable to regenerate.  The gloating, sadistic Master keeps the Doctor as a pet, forcing him to witness his brutal conquest of the Earth.  At one point the Master even has the Scissor Sisters song “I Can’t Decide” playing as he manically springs about his headquarters, pushing the incapacitated Doctor around in a wheelchair:

I can’t decide
Whether you should live or die
Oh, you’ll prob’ly go to heaven
Please don’t hang your head and cry
No wonder why
My heart feels dead inside
It’s cold and hard and petrified
Lock the doors and close the blinds
We’re going for a ride

That chorus certainly sounds like an apt description of the Master’s ambivalent feelings towards the Doctor.

At the conclusion of “Last of the Time Lords,” with the Master defeated and his year-long rule over of the Earth erased from history, the Doctor is ready to take custody of his arch foe.  However, the Master’s abused wife Lucy shoots him.  The Doctor realizes that if the Master dies he will once again be the only surviving Time Lord and begs his adversary to regenerate.  But the Master wills himself not to.  He would rather perish than become the Doctor’s prisoner.  And, seeing how terrified the Doctor is of once again being alone in the universe, the Master says “How about that? I win.”  With that he dies.  The Master, a being who clung so stubbornly, tenaciously to life, looking for any means to escape death’s embrace, finally lets himself die just to spite the Doctor.

Master John Simm

Of course, even dead and cremated, the Master finds a way back to life.  He’s good at that sort of thing.  “The End of Time” sees him and the Tenth Doctor once more face to face.  Again the Doctor is pleading with the Master to end his latest scheme of conquest and accept his help.  For once, we see the Master hint at regret and sadness at how twisted their friendship has become.  But he is also possessed of a resigned conviction that things can never be the way they once were.

A few writers over the years have attempted to examine what led the Master to become the cold, ruthless monster that he is.  David A. McIntee’s novel The Dark Path and Joseph Lidster’s Big Finish audio play “Master” each had their own ideas.  Russell T Davies also took a stab at it in the revived television series.  We learned that the future Master, at the young age of eight, looked into the time vortex as part of a Time Lord rite of initiation.  The experience apparently drove him mad over time, and in the back of his mind he heard the incessant, unrelenting sound of drums pounding.  Davies stopped short of categorically stating this was the cause of the Master’s insanity, suggesting it is only a theory on the Doctor’s part.

Davies returned to the pounding of the drums in the Master’s psyche in “The End of Time,” and we learn the horrible origin of the mental noise that has plagued him throughout much of his life.

In the final days of the Time War, the Time Lords, corrupted by their immense powers, and driven to desperation by their cataclysmic conflict with the Daleks, decided to re-create reality itself and ascend to a higher plane of existence.  Unfortunately, this would wipe out all other life in the universe.  The Doctor, realizing how dangerous and ruthless his own people had become, apparently destroyed both the Time Lords and the Daleks.  The events of the War became “time locked,” unalterable.

The Time Lords, though, refused to give up.  Rassilon, the resurrected Lord President of Gallifrey, hatched a desperate scheme to escape the time lock.  On the eve of the War’s conclusion, Rassilon learns that the Doctor and the Master are the only two Time Lords who are destined to survive the conflict.  Rassilon orders a signal beamed back centuries through the time vortex, to be intercepted by a young Master during his initiation: the sound of drums.  This signal, which helped drive the Master insane, is something the Time Lords can now fix onto and use to break Gallifrey out of the time lock, freeing the Time Lords to rewrite all of existence.

The Master, the grand manipulator who sought control over all reality, learns in “The End of Time” that he has been someone else’s pawn all along.

At the conclusion of the story the Doctor managed to shatter that link.  Rassilon, the Time Lords, and Gallifrey were all yanked back into the time stream, to once again perish at the end of the Time War.  And this time the Master vanished alongside them.

However, as was revealed in “The Day of the Doctor,” Gallifrey was not actually destroyed.  Instead it was hidden away in an alternate dimension.  And so the potential survival of the Master once again became a possibility.

Missy Michelle Gomez

The Master did indeed eventually resurface to bedevil the Doctor.  Now in his Twelfth incarnation, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) encountered Missy (Michelle Gomez), the Master regenerated into a female body.  But she was still as insane and demented as ever.  In the two part story “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” Missy succeeded in transforming billions of dead humans into an army of Cybermen. When she subsequently reveals that her manipulations have all been enacted in order that she could give the Doctor control of this Cybermen army as a gift, he is absolutely flabbergasted…

The Doctor: All of this… All of it, just to give me an army?
Missy: Well, I don’t need one, do I? Armies are for people who think they’re right. And nobody thinks they’re righter than you! Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill.
The Doctor: I don’t want an army.
Missy: Well, that’s the trouble! Yes, you do! You’ve always wanted one! All those people suffering in the Dalek camps? Now you can save them. All those bad guys winning all the wars? Go and get the good guys back.
The Doctor: Nobody can have that power.
Missy: You will because you don’t have a choice. There’s only one way you can stop these clouds from opening up and killing all your little pets down here. Conquer the universe, Mr. President. Show a bad girl how it’s done.
The Doctor: Why are you doing this?
Missy: I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back.

This exchange very much parallels the one between the Doctor and the Master many years back in “Colony in Space.”  Once again the Master / Missy is offering the Doctor the opportunity to bring order to the universe, to reshape it in his image.  And whereas before the terms of the offer were “join me or die” here it is “join me or I destroy the human race.”

Christopher H. Bidmead once described the Master as “the devil incarnate.”  That was an apt description.  Not only is the Master an entity of pure evil who wants control over all existence, but he is also a figure of temptation.  On various occasions he has tempted individuals with offers of power.  In the end, after they (metaphorically) sold their souls to him, he inevitably killed them.  The Master sought to bring the Doctor himself over to his side with the promise of equal control of the Doomsday Weapon.  Now once again the Master / Missy seeks to corrupt the Doctor with the offer of absolute power.  If Missy cannot prove that she is superior to the Doctor, then she is instead determined to drag the Doctor down to her level, to demonstrate to both herself and the Doctor that in the end he is no better than her.

Missy Master all incarnations

As I was writing this post, pondering the question of what caused the friendship of these two Time Lords to transform into such a bitter, twisted enmity, a thought occurred to me.  Perhaps it was not only the Master who changed.  Maybe it was also the Doctor who became a different person.

In the very first season of Doctor Who, broadcast in 1963-64, the figure of the First Doctor, portrayed by William Hartnell, starts out as very unsympathetic.  In the first few stories he is, at best, an anti-hero.  If you want to be brutally honest, he is an asshole.

The Doctor is repeatedly insulting and condescending to Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton.  He kidnaps the two schoolteachers in the TARDIS to prevent his granddaughter Susan from going with them and leaving him.  In Earth’s prehistoric past he is willing to bash in the head of a wounded caveman with a rock, to kill in cold blood, in order to ensure his own survival.  He selfishly sabotages the TARDIS so that he will have a chance to explore Skaro, resulting in him and his companions nearly dying from radiation sickness and then becoming prisoners of the Daleks.  Afterwards, when the TARDIS malfunctions and hurtles back in time out of control, without any evidence he accuses Ian and Barbara of sabotaging the craft, and threatens to throw them out at the very next destination.

Finally, at the climax of “The Edge of Destruction,” a fuming Barbara reads the Doctor the riot act.  She calls him out on all of the crap that he has pulled throughout the previous three serials.  When the Doctor discovers that he was totally incorrect about what was wrong with the TARDIS, and Susan points out to him that he has acted horrible towards Ian and Barbara, the Doctor is forced to eat humble pie.  He reluctantly offers up a mea culpa to Barbara, acknowledging that he was wrong and she was right.  He acknowledges that “As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.”  And from that point on the Doctor began his transformation into the heroic figure we all know & love.

If the Doctor became a better person through his travels and his friendships with human beings, perhaps the opposite is true of the Master.  Perhaps he was once like the Doctor in the old days, arrogant, overconfident and manipulative, yet not truly evil.  But along the way, traveling the universe alone, without the positive influence of others, without anyone to call him out on his mistakes or urge him to change his ways, all of the Master’s negative flaws were left unchecked and allowed to flourish, until eventually he became a monster.

That, I think, is the fascination of the Master as a character.  He is the man the Doctor could have become under a different set of circumstances, if he had made different choices.  The Master is his warped mirror image, an eternal reminder to the Doctor of what he still might yet become, a potent warning that he must ever keep himself in check, lest the same fate befall him.

Remembering Glyn Idris Jones

This past Monday morning, while checking my inbox, I received some unfortunate news. An e-mail from a familiar addressed opened with the following:

“Dear friends both near and far

“I have some sad news for you. As some of you will have already heard (and thank you for all your kind thoughts), at 3pm on Wednesday the 2nd of April, Glyn Idris Jones died peacefully here at home in Vamos, Crete. It was just 25 days before his 83rd birthday and 4 days before our 54th Anniversary.”

These words were written by Christopher Beeching, Glyn’s partner of more than a half a century. While I never had the good fortune to meet Glyn in person, I was fortunate enough to have regularly corresponded with him via e-mail for the past several years.

Glyn Idris Jones
I wrote a bit about Glyn’s life and career as an actor, writer & director in January last year in my blog post about his excellent autobiography No Official Umbrella. I highly recommend picking up a copy. It is a wonderful read.

As to how I got in touch with Glyn personally, well, not too surprisingly I discovered his work via his involvement in Doctor Who. Glyn held the rare distinction of having both written for and acted in that series, penning the 1965 serial “The Space Museum” and appearing a decade later in “The Sontaran Experiment.”

I have always liked “The Space Museum,” finding it an underappreciated gem. It was the very first Doctor Who story to really explore the idea that time travel is a lot more complicated and dangerous than simply bopping back and forth from one era to another in the TARDIS.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions Ian, Barbara, and Vicki land on Xeros, a conquered world that has been transformed into a vast museum celebrating the history of the once-mighty Morok Empire. However, the TARDIS has “jumped a time track,” and the four travelers arrive out of sync with the time stream. The first episode ends as they see their own personal future: they have been turned into museum exhibits, freeze-dried and placed in glass display cases for the rest of eternity.

Then time re-aligns itself, and the Doctor and friends “arrive” in the present on Xeros. They spend the next three episodes desperately attempting to avert the dire future fate they have glimpsed. There is an interesting philosophical debate running through the story: Is the future set in stone, or can it be altered? By attempting to avert their horrible fate, are the Doctor and his companions actually initiating the events that will lead them to become museum exhibits?

The thing about “The Space Museum” is that, in addition to its high concept premise, Glyn Jones also conceived it as a tongue-in-cheek tale. However, script editor Dennis Spooner cut a great deal of the humor from the final scripts, and the episodes were directed in a very straightforward, static manner by Mervyn Pinfield.

Space Museum novelization
Offered the opportunity to novelize “The Space Museum” in 1987, Glyn restored much of the excised comedy. He also used the prose format as an opportunity to get into the heads of his characters and develop them. This was particularly the case with Governor Lobos, the villain of the story, who was quite a one-note figure on-screen, but rather more interestingly realized in print. All in all, the novelization was an entertaining read.

In any case, when “The Space Museum” was released on DVD, I did a write-up of the story on Associated Content in July 2010. Having come across Glyn’s website, I decided to e-mail him a link. After all these decades, I had no idea how he felt about his involvement in Doctor Who, but I figured, why not, he might be interested. Soon after, he wrote back:

“Thank you so much for your letter and for the article which I read with interest. No, it doesn’t bother me one jot that people after all these years are still talking about The Space Museum. It’s quite flattering and who objects to being flattered especially when sincerely meant?

“Since moving to Crete I have virtually given up with theatre and the media so, apart from a new musical, still waiting in the wings, one play set in Athens which I hope will shortly be produced there, I have turned to prose with the following results: an autobiography titled No Official Umbrella, four comedy thrillers with my very own detective Thornton King and his female sidekick Holly Day. These are Dead On Time, followed by Just In Case and then Dead On Target. The fourth The Cinelli Vases is due out later this year. Much fun if read in sequence as characters from number one go right through to four.”

Of course very soon I had purchased Dead On Time and No Official Umbrella, and found both of them to be very engaging, entertaining reads. I wrote back to Glyn with my thoughts, and soon enough I was corresponding with him pretty regularly.

On his own blog Glyn penned some intriguing, insightful, witty commentaries on theater, television, society, politics, religion and many other topics. We ended up talking about quite a few of these. On the subject of post-Apartheid South Africa, Glyn was happy to see the end of the systemic discrimination that had plagued the country of his birth for decades, but he was saddened to see it replaced by rampant corruption & crime. He concluded with an optimistic wish for the future: “However it is still the most beautiful country and hopefully the years will see a distinct improvement for everyone and not just for a few.”

I asked Glyn if it would be possible to mail him my copy of the novelization of “The Space Museum” for him to sign. He warned me that the mail in his region could be unreliable, but agreed. A few weeks later, when the book was mailed back, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that he had included an autographed copy of The Cinelli Vases, his fourth Thornton King novel.

Cinelli Vases
Glyn was kind enough to take a peek at my WordPress blog and offer feedback, either via comments here or by e-mail. I always took it as a compliment that he took the time to do so, and found his views to be interesting.

In the last year I ended up sort of dropping off our correspondence. I was pretty wrapped up with personal matters and searching for a new job. I really regret that I never took the opportunity to read the copy of his new play The Muses’ Darling which he e-mailed me, or order the DVD of Champagne Charlie, Christopher Beeching’s musical play about Victorian music hall entertainer George Leybourne which Glyn had written.

I want to offer my thoughts, sympathies and best wishes to Chris, and to Douglas Foote, who was their good friend of 27 years.

“The Play is over, tired, he sleeps.”
Glyn Idris Jones
27th April 1931 – 2nd April 2014

Christopher Barry: 1925 – 2014

Veteran British television director Christopher Barry passed away on February 7th at the age of 88.  Among his numerous credits was a long association with Doctor Who which began in 1963 and continued on and off until 1979.  This made him one of only three people to have directed William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker on the show.  Barry was interviewed at length in 2002 in Doctor Who Magazine #s 314 to 316, wherein he admitted “I didn’t like being stereotyped as a Doctor Who director.”  Nevertheless, he did very good work on the series, and is fondly remembered for his important contributions.

Barry was, with Richard Martin, the co-director of the second Doctor Who serial “The Daleks” in December 1963, which featured the debut of the Doctor’s instantly iconic arch foes.  Barry and Martin worked together closely in the planning of the seven-episode production, with Barry himself directing parts 1, 2, 4 and 5.  He conceived the famous first episode cliffhanger, shot from a Dalek’s viewpoint, with a plunger-like appendage gliding towards Barbara Wright, who screamed in terror, leaving audiences to wait an entire week to find out exactly what was menacing the schoolteacher.  Barry’s thinking was “Good thriller directors suggest terror rather than explicitly showing it.”  In episode two, Barry was responsible for the first full-shot reveal of the Daleks, as the camera rapidly pulled back from the Doctor, Ian Chesterton, and Susan to show them surrounded by Skaro’s strange, fearsome mutants.

Daleks episode two reveal
A historic reveal: the Daleks make their debut.

Barry directed three other Hartnell stories, “The Rescue,” “The Romans” and “The Savages.” His last contribution to the show’s first decade was directing “The Power of the Daleks” in 1966, which featured Patrick Trougton’s debut as the second incarnation of the Doctor.  Unfortunately this entire six part serial is currently missing from the BBC archives, bar a few short clips that give a tantalizing glimpse of the production.

Five years later Barry returned to Doctor Who.  Jon Pertwee was now playing the lead role, and Barry directed two of his stories, “The Daemons” (1971) and “The Mutants” (1972).  I have unfortunately not had an opportunity to view either of those stories in a number of years, and I have rather foggy memories.  Nevertheless, I do vaguely recall that “The Daemons” was a good story.  Many other fans of the series have cited it as one of their all time favorite stories.  I’ll have to pick it up on DVD one of these days.

In late 1974 Barry was brought in to direct Tom Baker’s debut as the Doctor in “Robot,” written by Terrance Dicks.  This one I have seen a number of times, and the direction is definitely dramatic and suspenseful.  Barry certainly used the eponymous Robot very effectively.  In real life it was probably a cumbersome prop / costume, but Barry makes it appear a menacing figure.  Aside from a few poorly realized special effects in the final episode, it’s a good, solid introduction for Baker.

Brain of Morbius Philip Madoc
Philip Madoc as Solon in “The Brain of Morbius.”

Barry would direct two more of Baker’s serials.  “The Brain of Morbius” (1976) is another of those stories considered a classic by many long-time fans.  It is an interesting, moody, Grand Guignol pastiche of Frankenstein, once again written by Terrance Dicks, albeit with heavy revisions by script editor Robert Holmes.  Barry once again did great work on this story.  He was responsible for the brilliant casting of actor Philip Madoc as the fanatical mad scientist Mehendri Solon.  As Barry explained, “I knew he had a strong presence, and was capable of almost manic intensity, which he indeed conveyed brilliantly.”

It is unfortunate that Barry’s final contribution to Doctor Who was the 1979 serial “The Creature from the Pit.”  This one is often regarded as a rather mediocre affair.  Aside from a somewhat shaky plot, the main point of contention is the alien Erato, a giant green glowing blob-like entity that was inexplicably given a phallic-looking appendage.  Tom Baker, never one to resist an opportunity for humor, infamously had the Doctor attempt to communicate with Erato by blowing into said appendage!  Quite understandably, this caused quite a commotion behind the cameras.

Creature from the Pit Erato
Move along now, nothing to see here.

Barry only accepted the job of directing “The Creature from the Pit” due to having an unexpected hole in his schedule right when it was offered to him, and needing the work.  He acknowledges that, in hindsight, it was not the best note on which to depart from the series, and he found the whole production, as well as the uproar over the poor conception of the Creature, to have been a trying experience.

Despite the fact that Barry would have preferred to have been recognized for the diverse range of productions that he directed on British television, in the end he acknowledged that he was satisfied with most of the work that he did on Doctor Who.  Certainly he was a talented, thoughtful director who played a key role in some of the series’ most significant moments, and who helped bring to life several of its most revered stories.

Doctor Who reviews: The Tenth Planet

I’ve wanted to watch the Doctor Who serial “The Tenth Planet,” originally broadcast in October 1966, for many years.  However, as the final episode has been missing from the BBC archives for almost four decades, I never had the opportunity until now.  The DVD release of the story features a reconstruction of that missing episode using the original audio track and brand new animation based on the Telesnap photos made by John Cura way back when.

Tenth Planet DVD

So, having finally had the chance to see “The Tenth Planet,” what did I think of it?  Well, to be perfectly honest, while I thought it was a good story, I did not necessarily think it was a great one.  I think that this serial, co-written by Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis, is significant for the precedents it set for the series as a whole.  One, it is the debut of the Cybermen, now regarded as the second most popular monsters after the Daleks.  Two, it introduced the concept that the Doctor is capable of undergoing a complete change in both his physical form and personality, as William Hartnell transformed into Patrick Troughton in the closing seconds of the final episode, an aspect of the series’ mythology that eventually enabled the show to last for half a century and counting.  Three, it established the “base under siege” story formula which would be so effectively used throughout Troughton’s three years portraying the Doctor, and which has been revived from time to time since then.

The concepts introduced by Pedler & Davis in “The Tenth Planet” are definitely innovative & creepy.  The idea of a parallel race of human beings that existed on Earth’s long-lost, wandering twin planet Mondas, who found themselves growing weaker and weaker and decided to resort to the replacement of body parts & organs to survive, is a really good one.  As postulated by Pedler & Davis, the Cybermen eventually succumbed to their own technology, becoming more mechanical than organic.  Even the alteration of their still-living brains to remove emotions was seen by them as an improvement.  In the end, the Cybermen did survive, but at the cost of their humanity.  In those scenes where the technicians of the South Pole Tracking Station are desperately attempting to save the doomed crew of the Zeus IV space capsule, there is something very tragic about the Cybermen’s complete inability to comprehend why these humans are expending all of their efforts & energy towards a hopeless task.

I also really like the designs of these early Cybermen.  The cloth-like face with an obviously humanoid head beneath it, the still-organic hands, and the rather bulky, clunky forms of their headgear & chest-units all point to beings who were once human and, over time, were gradually transformed into cyborgs by spare-part surgery.  There is something undeniably spooky about these Cybermen.  Derek Martinus, who overall does good work directing this story, certainly succeeds in making the Cybermen menacing figures, especially in the scenes set on the Antarctic landscape.

On the one hand, it’s a real shame that in subsequent appearances the Cybermen appeared much more robotic than they did here.  On the other, yeah, I can certainly understand why, given a bigger budget, the production team decided to streamline them.  These must have been incredibly difficult costumes for the actors to wear, and in quite a few shots you can actually see the Cybermen’s helmets held together by transparent tape.

Tenth Planet Cybermen

All that said, though, “The Tenth Planet” does have certain problems.  The pacing of this story is poor.  The first invading party of Cybermen is wiped out towards the end of the second episode.  In the third episode, we barely see the Cybermen at all.  Most of the third installment is taken up by the increasingly-deranged General Cutler ordering the launch of a super-weapon known as the Z-Bomb to destroy Mondas, even though everyone keeps warning him that the resulting explosion will probably expose the Earth itself to deadly radiation.  Making matters worse, Hartnell became very ill right before the filming of this episode.  So, via a body double, the Doctor passes out in the opening seconds of part three, and it falls to his companions Ben and Polly, played by Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, to try and thwart Cutler’s mad scheme.  Yes, that gives Ben a lot to do.  But poor Polly spends the episode looking after the unconscious Doctor and serving coffee to the tracking station staff (yeah, okay, this was written in the 1960s, but still).  The episode just seemed to drag on.

Then part four arrives, and suddenly events rocket forward.  The Cybermen re-invade the Snowcap base not once but twice in a plot to blow up the Earth with the Z-Bomb before Mondas absorbs too much energy & dissolves.  After that fails, Mondas does indeed go kaput, and the Cybermen, who were drawing their energy from it, disintegrate.  Ben rescues the Doctor and Polly from a now-abandoned Cyber-ship.  And to wrap it all up, once they get back to the TARDIS, the Doctor collapses and regenerates.  That’s a hell of a lot to cram into 25 minutes!

I think it is extremely unfortunate that Hartnell was absent for a large percentage of what was his last story.  Watching the first two episodes of “The Tenth Planet,” he is in top form, giving a magnificent performance.  You would hardly guess he was suffering from ongoing health problems and was on the verge of departing the series.  But then, sadly, it just falls apart.  Hartnell is completely absent from part three.  When he does return for part four, between the fact that he was still recuperating from bronchitis and the character of the Doctor is written as fading fast, Hartnell does not have too much of a presence in his final episode.

There are also some major flaws with the Cybermen.  The whole notion that Mondas needs to recharge itself by sucking up Earth’s energy, but that it will be destroyed if it drains too much, leaves the Cybermen looking rather incompetent.  They appear to have no plan for dealing with this, other than invading the Snowcap base and using the Z-Bomb to destroy the Earth before that happens.  At least, I’m guessing that is why they landed at the South Pole in the first place, even though they don’t get around to attempting to utilize the Z-Bomb until the final episode.  And that presents another hindrance: the Cybermen need ordinary humans to prepare the Z-Bomb.  Why?  It turns out that, despite having replaced the majority of their organic material with artificial parts, making them super-strong, bulletproof, and immune to illness, the Cybermen are somehow much more vulnerable to radiation than ordinary human beings.  All that Ben and the Snowcap scientists end up having to do is don radiation suits, pull the rods from the base’s nuclear reactor and thrust them at the approaching Cybermen, causing the denizens of Mondas to instantly collapse.

I’m not saying that “The Tenth Planet” is a bad story.  As I explained at the outset, I think it is a good story with interesting ideas.  There are certain flaws that unfortunately keep it from being truly great, problems which perhaps Pedler & Davis could have ironed out if they’d had more time to fine-tune their scripts.  And, of course, there was Hartnell’s sudden illness, which caught everyone by surprise.  No one could have prepared for that, especially given the breakneck speed at which the show was filmed back in the 1960s.

Tenth Planet novelization

Perhaps “The Tenth Planet” was a learning experience for Pedler & Davis.  In their next two Cybermen stories, “The Moonbase” and “Tomb of the Cybermen,” there is a very apparent climb in quality.  In turn, Davis may have taken what he learned co-scripting those two serials and applied it ten years later when, in 1976, he novelized “The Tenth Planet.”  Yes, the plot holes of the televised version are inevitably still there, but they are much less obvious.  Indeed, Davis’ book has a very palpable atmosphere of claustrophobia & menace.

In the end, we can look back on “The Tenth Planet” as a crucial moment of major transition & experimentation for Doctor Who.  The series was taking a tremendous leap into the unknown via the recasting of the main character, the Doctor.  It was also introduced an enduring villain, as well as establishing a story structure that would be very effectively utilized over the next three years, leading to a number of now-classic serials.  By working though the difficulties of this particular story, the production team helped to guarantee the series a long and exciting future.

Doctor Who: The Missing Episodes UPDATED

As I’ve blogged before, I started watching Doctor Who around 1983 or so.  Back then, being a fan of the show could be frustrating.  This was in the days before the BBC began releasing the show on videotape.  The only episodes one could see here in the States were those showing on the local PBS channels.  In my case, that was WLIW Channel 21, which was airing the Tom Baker and Peter Davison stories.

As far as obtaining information on older Doctor Who, sources in the 1980s were limited.  I had to rely on the Target novelisations, the occasional issue of Doctor Who Magazine that showed up in the comic shops, and the odd sci-fi reference book containing a few black & white photos offering tantalizing glimpses of 1960s and early 70s stories.  Oh, yes, a couple of years later I got my hands on the two-volume Doctor Who Programme Guide by J.M. Lofficier.  That was an invaluable wealth of information in those pre-Internet days.  I read those two books so many times that my copies are totally dog-eared!

In 1985, another PBS channel began airing the Jon Pertwee stories on Sunday mornings.  I was thrilled to be able watch those early 1970s serials, many of which had been alluded to in the Peter Davison stories.  But the material from the 1960s still remained beyond my grasp.

Adding to my frustration was word-of-mouth from older fans who had seen those stories when they first aired.  Those fans had such nostalgic memories of the material, and many held the opinion that then-current Doctor Who stories of the 1980s could not hold a candle to the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories from two decades earlier.

(I’ve mentioned before the phenomenon of “the memory cheats” cited by John Nathan-Turner, which of course turned out rather truthful.  But back in the mid-1980s I had no choice but to rely on the opinions of people who had actually grown up watching the series in the 1960s).

The difficulty with being able to view many of those early stories was that throughout the 1970s the BBC systematically erased or destroyed the majority of their master tapes for the early Doctor Who episodes, along with numerous other television programs.  There were a few reasons for this.  The BBC wanted to save on storage space.  Also, contracts with unions typically prevented shows from being broadcast more than once or twice, as the feeling by organized labor was that reruns would rob actors of new jobs and income.  Finally, no one had any idea that DVDs and Internet downloads would one day exist, providing the BBC with completely new distribution outlets, not to mention a huge source of revenue.

So, back in the mid-1980s, it was commonly believed that the majority of the Sixties stories no longer existed.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to watch “The Daleks’ Master Plan” or “The Evil of the Daleks” or “Tomb of the Cybermen,” serials which older fans decreed were The Greatest Doctor Who Stories Ever.

What I didn’t realize was that, behind the scenes, both the BBC and fans of the show had begun searching for copies of the many missing episodes.  By the 1990s, quite a few had been recovered, either from various foreign countries (many of the shows had been sold overseas by the BBC) or from really unlike locations such as church basements and the trunks of old cars.

Hmmm, missing episodes, missing episodes.... I was sure I wrote down where I put them somewhere in my diary!
Hmmm, missing episodes, missing episodes…. I was certain that I wrote down where I put them somewhere in my 500 Year Diary!

In my blog post Unearthing the Tomb of the Cybermen, I related how huge a deal it was when all four episodes of that story were discovered in 1992 in the archives of a Hong Kong television station.  And by that time, I’d also had the opportunity to see a number of the other complete Sixties serials, which finally started airing on PBS around 1990.  And I realized something: some of them truly were classics, but others were of variable quality, with a few being very mediocre, padded-out efforts.  Which, really, is something you can say about most periods in the show’s history.  Yes, even present day Doctor Who, which can range between the brilliant and the underwhelming.  That said, it is a shame that such a significant number of early Doctor Who episodes are lost.  I would like to be able to view them, and make up my own mind.

When I wrote an earlier version of this post, back in January 2010, of the 253 episodes filmed in the Sixties, 108 were still missing from the BBC archives.  The odds seemed slim that any more would surface.  But the most recent discovery of a lost episode before that was only six years earlier, in 2004.  So I observed it was conceivable that a few more episodes might be floating around somewhere in the world.  And I was much relieved when, in December 2011, it was announced that two more episodes had been found, “Galaxy Four” part three and “The Underwater Menace” part two.  At least now my earlier forecast didn’t seem quite so foolish!

Fast forward to 2013.  For months now, rumors have been circulating that a number of missing episodes had been unearthed.  I really did not give these much credence because, let’s face it, the Internet is full of unverifiable “information.”  But the gossip really gathered steam in the past month’s time, claims that the BBC had located a significant number of episodes and was sitting on the news in order to make a huge announcement.  I totally dismissed out of hand the claim by UK tabloid The Mirror that “over 100 episodes” had been recovered.  Not only was that number really unrealistic, the supposed source of this information was someone who heard it from a friend… who, in turn, probably heard it from another friend, and so on.  And, y’know, The Mirror isn’t exactly known for its journalist excellence!

Then, on Monday of this week, it was announced by the BBC themselves that, yes, an unspecified number of episodes had been recovered.  However, the details would not be revealed until Wednesday.  No, make that Thursday!  At this point in time, I wanted to bang my head against a wall in frustration, and I started referring to this whole sequence of events as “The Great Doctor Who Missing Episodes Cock-Tease of 2013.”

Last night I arrived home from the New York Comic Con and immediately went online to see if the BBC had finally spilled the goods.  Yes, at last they had.  Eleven episodes had been located, lying forgotten in the storeroom of a Nigerian television station, and of these, nine were previously missing from the BBC’s archives.  What was recovered was the entire six episode serial “The Enemy of the World” and five of the six episodes comprising “The Web of Fear.”  Both of these starred Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, and Deborah Watling, and were originally broadcast during 1967-68, the show’s fifth season.

I have got to say, this is really great news.  Due to the manner in which the BBC sold Doctor Who abroad, there were far fewer copies of the stories from the third, fourth, and fifth years made and distributed.  There is an excellent two-part article in Doctor Who Magazine #444 to 445 (March & April 2012) written by Richard Molesworth that explains the whys and wherefores of this situation in great detail.  Suffice it to say, the end result of this was that much of William Hartnell’s third year on the series, and nearly all of Patrick Troughton’s first two years, have been lost for several decades now.  So to locate two of Troughton’s stories, one totally intact, the other nearly so, is a huge discovery.

Many older fans (as in, even older than me!) have long regarded Season Five, featuring Troughton, Hines, and Watling, to be one of the all time greatest years in the series’ history.  Of course, always hearing this would drive me nuts, because I could never actually watch the majority of it!  But now, of the seven serials from 1967-68, two are known to exist in full, namely “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Enemy of the World,” and two more are nearly complete, specifically “The Ice Warriors” and “The Web of Fear.”  The two missing episodes from “The Ice Warriors” were recreated via animation and the story was just released on DVD.  Hopefully the BBC can provide the same treatment for that one still-lost installment of “The Web of Fear.”

Optimism aside, I honestly thought it was unlikely that the missing episode count would ever dip below the 100 mark.  But now it actually stands at 97.

Look, Victoria, I'm telling you, I spotted some missing episodes over there. Or would you rather ask the Yeti that's chasing us for directions?
Look, Victoria, I’m telling you, I spotted some missing episodes over there. Or would you rather ask the Yeti that’s chasing us for directions?

In any case, there are now even more opportunities to view the existing material from the Sixties.  All of the complete stories have been digitally restored and released on DVD.  Many of the episodes from incomplete serials are collected on the three-disk set Lost in Time, released in 2004.  The nine newly found episodes are already available for digital download on iTunes, and apparently are racking up very impressive sales figures.  Complete audio tracks exist for every episode due to fans copying them off their televisions with tape recorders during the original broadcasts.   Several have been animated.  And the majority of the episodes have various still pictures called “telesnaps” taken by John Cura in the 1960s.  So it is possible to reconstruct the lost stories in one way or another.

By the way, the online piece Snapshots in History is a very informative profile on Cura and his important work.  Definitely take a look.  And I must offer a big “thank you” to Vivian Fleming, who writes the excellent, entertaining WordPress blog The Mind Robber, for having posted a link to it.

Anyway, in a dream world, what missing episodes would I like to see resurface?  At the top of my list of Hartnell material would be the last episode of “The Tenth Planet,” which has the Doctor’s very first regeneration.  That episode has been reconstructed via animation, but one day it would be nice to see the original.  It would also be great if at least one of the seven episodes from the lavish historical serial “Marco Polo” from the show’s first season was discovered.  It is very odd that none are currently known to exist, when practically the rest of the entire first year of Doctor Who is intact, except for two episodes from “The Reign of Terror.”  I would also like to be able to see another completely missing historical story, “The Massacre,” which gave the spotlight to companion Steven Taylor, portrayed by Peter Purves.  It also features an amazingly moving monologue by the Doctor in the last episode.  And the final apocalyptic episode of “The Daleks’ Master Plan” sounds like it was amazing.

Concerning the Troughton era of the show, I’d certainly be happy if any episodes surfaced from his debut adventure, “The Power of the Daleks,” as well as his second run-in with the fascist mutants from Skaro, “The Evil of the Daleks.”  Also topping my wish list is “Fury from the Deep,” another story from season five.  It is the only serial from that year of which no complete episodes are known to exist.  Based on the very creepy, atmospheric novelization written by the original writer, Victor Pemberton, plus looking at a handful of very brief surviving clips & behind-the-scenes footage, it was probably a heck of a story.  Finally, “The Highlanders,” which introduces long-time companion Jamie McCrimmon, played by Frazer Hines, would be a nice find.

It is extremely unlikely that we will see the recovery of every single missing episode.  I am sure that there are many that have been irrevocably lost.  For instance, several different sources all agree that “The Daleks’ Master Plan” part seven is gone for good.  Because it was a one-off Christmas interlude set in the middle of that mammoth twelve-part epic, the BBC considered it a throw-away episode.  Consequently it was never offered up for sale anywhere in the world and it was wiped soon after it was broadcast in 1965.

So, no, it really would be absolutely impossible to find every one of those 97 remaining missing Doctor Who episodes.  That said, I still hope that a few more are out there, waiting to be discovered.  But, in the meantime, let’s enjoy the ones we do have.

Old vs new: fan wars and Doctor Who

Okay, I’m taking a break in my retrospective of David Quinn’s Doctor Strange stories to talk about some issues concerning another well-known fictional doctor.  I am, of course, referring to Doctor Who.  Come on, you all know me!  Who did you think I was going to blog about, Doctor Doolittle?

When I heard that Peter Capaldi had been cast as the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor, my first reaction was to head over to good old Wikipedia to look him up.  I quickly realized that Capaldi had previously appeared in both the Doctor Who episode “The Fires of Pompeii” and the Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries.  I thought he delivered strong performances in each of those roles.  I wasn’t familiar with his other work, but from reading his bio it was obvious that he has been quite busy for the past three decades.  To me, he seemed like a very capable actor, and I was looking forward to seeing what he brought to the role of the Doctor.  I really did not intend to make any other comments until I actually had the opportunity to view him playing the Doctor some time in 2014.

Then I started to see articles and postings around the Internet, comments from a number of younger fans that Capaldi, at 55 years of age (incidentally the same age as William Hartnell when he became the first actor to portray the Doctor back in 1963) was “too old” or “unattractive” to play the role.  And my blood pressure went through the roof.  I was preparing to write up the mother of all blog posts going off on an extended bloody rant tearing these teenagers a new one.

And then I read an insightful & intelligent response to this controversy on one of my favorite WordPress blogs, An American View of British Science Fiction.  Entitled “The Twelfth Doctor & Why I’m Sick of Nerd In-Fighting” this thoughtful piece of commentary caused me to step back, take a deep breath, and try to consider the other side.  I decided that if I was going to post my thoughts, I would do so in a reasonable manner that attempts to articulate and explain my position.

The man on the left is the Doctor. The man on the right, incidentally, is also the Doctor.
The man on the left is the Doctor. The man on the right, incidentally, is also the Doctor.

The reason why I am so annoyed at younger fans complaining Peter Capaldi is “too old” is that it just seems to indicate both a level of superficiality & fickleness among newer fans, as well as a complete lack of interest in anything involved with Doctor Who from before 2005.

Speaking from my own personal experience, when I first got into Doctor Who in the early 1980s, and Peter Davison was playing the Doctor, I was absolutely dying to find out about the show’s rich past from the 1960s and 70s.  I so badly wanted to be able to watch William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, and Tom Baker’s stories. And it just seemed that, excepting Tom’s stuff, you couldn’t find them anywhere! Maybe the fact that so much of the material from the series’ first 11 years had either A) never been broadcast in the States or B) was lost forever, having been foolishly junked by the BBC in the mid-1970s, made it even more tantalizing.  You know, when you cannot have something, you end up wanting it even more.

I guess nowadays, with pretty much every single existing episode of the series available on DVD, people can go on Amazon and have a copy of any Doctor Who story delivered to their door in 24 hours, or even downloaded instantly onto their computer. That convenient access makes it a hell of a lot easier to take the show’s history for granted.

I never thought of it as “nerd elitism” but, okay, yeah, for many years I felt like I was one of those lone voices carrying the torch of Doctor Who fandom.  This was especially true in the 1990s, the period many older fans refer to as “the wilderness years.”  Back then, aside from the 1996 television movie starring Paul McGann, the only way to experience brand new Doctor Who was to read the original novels published first by Virgin and then by the BBC themselves.  The thing was, the quality of those books was highly variable.  Some were brilliantly revolutionary & cutting edge, while others were horribly pretentious, were trying much too hard to come across as “gritty” and “adult” or, worst of all, were just a couple of steps up from fan fiction by writers who wanted to “fix” perceived mistakes in the series’ continuity (I am not going to name any names).

The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch, probably one of the better Doctor Who novels published in the 1990s.
The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch, probably one of the better
Doctor Who novels published in the 1990s.

Okay, you could also buy Doctor Who Magazine for its excellent original comic strip, but that was only eight pages out of the entire periodical.  And in 1999, Big Finish began producing brand new audio adventures starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.  True, each two-CD story would cost around $25, and you could only listen to these new stories, rather than watching them.  But it was, at that point, literally the next best thing to having new Doctor Who on your television.

My point is, for much of the decade the pickings were rather slim.  Nevertheless, despite all that, I remained a fan.  I approached the novels, the comic strips and the audio plays with both enthusiasm and an open mind.  That’s how much I loved Doctor Who.  I recognized it had to change and, yes, go through some uncomfortable growing pains to survive.

The thing is, though, in those days, whenever I told anybody that I was a fan of the show, they either had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, or worse, their reaction was that I was some loser without a life, fruitlessly pining away for the return of a series that had been axed years before, never to return.

So, yeah, when I hear younger fans say that they have no interest in going back and seeing anything from the original 26 year run, it’s very annoying. Because if it wasn’t for those two and a half decades, as well as that decade plus where we had nothing but novels, comic strips, and audio plays, here and now there would not be this great series featuring David Tennant and Matt Smith which those new fans love so much.  And when those same fans say Peter Capaldi is “too old,” again it just seems like a deliberate thumbing of the nose at the show’s past.  The magic of the character of the Doctor is that he can be so many different things, and not only some handsome, dashing young fellow who makes the ladies swoon.

Look, I get it.  Many of those old serials seem really padded out compared to the current fast-paced incarnation of the series.  Even an “old school” fan such as me will be the first to admit that many of those stories could be cut down by an episode or two and not lose any material of real significance.  So, yeah, to younger viewers those stories might seem a chore to sit through.  But I wish they’d at least give some of those older episodes a chance, and see just how diverse a character the Doctor has been over the years.

“The Twelfth Doctor & Why I’m Sick of Nerd In-Fighting” does relevantly address the issue of Matt Smith’s age.  Yes, I acknowledge that back in 2009 when I heard some 26 year old actor had been cast as the Eleventh Doctor, I was one of the many long-time fans who thought this was a huge mistake, that he was much too young to be playing the role.  But you know what?  I still stuck around.  I watched Smith’s debut in “The Eleventh Hour,” and by the end of the episode he had pretty much won me over.  By the time the two-part “The Hungry Earth” / “Cold Blood” story was broadcast, I was a firm fan.  I could see he was much like Peter Davison, portraying the Doctor as an old soul in a young man’s body.  And now that Smith’s run is coming to an end, I am very sorry to see him go.

So, yes, I admit it: I was wrong!  But the point is, even though I was initially against Matt Smith because of his age, I stuck it out, I gave him a chance.  And, as you can see, I was very pleasantly surprised.

How about we all give Peter Capaldi a chance, please?
How about we all give Peter Capaldi a chance, please?

And that is another part of why I am so frustrated.  As I have related above, Doctor Who was tossed about in extremely stormy weather for the last decade of the 20th Century, but people such as me stuck it out because we truly loved the series and the characters, and we were willing to take the time to root out the quality stories from the dross.  That is why it really is disheartening to read about how some of these younger fans are apparently ready to jump ship in an instant, at the first sign of displeasure, rather than giving Peter Capaldi an opportunity to prove himself.

I hope that the fans of the series that came aboard after 2005 will take my advice, and at least wait & see before judging.  You never know what is around the corner.

Doctor Who reviews: The Aztecs

The Doctor Who serial “The Aztecs” was originally broadcast back in 1964, as part of the show’s very first season.  I’ve been thinking of doing a write-up on it for a while now.  Since “The Aztecs” was just recently aired on BBC America as part of a special on William Hartnell’s era playing the Doctor, now is certainly a good time.

The TARDIS arrives in Mexico sometime in the Fifteenth Century, during the reign of the Aztec empire, materializing within the tomb of a high priest, Yetaxa.  History teacher Barbara Wright, portrayed by Jacqueline Hill, has long been fascinated by the Aztec culture, and she slips a bracelet she finds in the tomb onto her arm.  When the Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Susan emerge from the tomb, they realize that it can only be opened from the inside, and that they are trapped.  The  TARDIS travelers are quickly discovered by the two leading religious authorities: Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge (Keith Pyott) and Tlotoxl, High Priest of Sacrifice (John Ringham), the later whom the Doctor and Ian quickly deduce to be “the local butcher.”  Because Barbara was wearing the bracelet when she emerged from the tomb, the current High Priests believe she is the reincarnation of Yetaxa, and as such a deity.

Barbara decides that, having been elevated to the position of a goddess, she will command the Aztecs to discontinue their barbaric practice of human sacrifice.  Her hope is that if she can set them on a “better” path, when Cortes and the Spanish arrive several decades hence in 1519 they will find a more “civilized” culture, one that they will not destroy.  The Doctor immediately sees the futility of this mission, and unsuccessfully tries to dissuade her.  Indeed, Barbara’s attempts to halt the sacrifices immediately fail, and Tlotoxl realizes that she is “a false goddess.”  From then on, it becomes a race by the Doctor to locate a secret entrance back into the tomb so that they can escape in the TARDIS before Tlotoxl is able to disprove Barbara’s divinity to the general populace and have her & her friends executed.

Tlotoxl and Barbara
Tlotoxl and Barbara

“The Aztecs” contains the Doctor’s now-famous admonishment, “But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line! Barbara, one last appeal: what you are trying to do is utterly impossible. I know! Believe me, I know!”  (I like the implication in the Doctor’s warning that he was once in Barbara’s position, and learned a bitter lesson, one he now hopes to save Barbara from having to endure.)  Whereas most Doctor Who serials see the Doctor and his companions doing exactly that, altering events, changing history, fighting on the side of good against evil, here they are nearly powerless.  The Doctor recognizes that the eventual destruction of the Aztecs is what current show runner Steven Moffat defines as “a fixed point in time.”  The only “victory” that the Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Susan can possibly achieve here is to survive.

John Lucarotti’s writing on “The Aztecs” is magnificent.  He previously penned another historical serial in Season One, “Marco Polo,” the episodes of which unfortunately are believed to no longer exist, aside from the audio track and still photos.  So “The Aztecs” is the first completely intact example of his work on the series.  Lucarotti’s scripts really demonstrate a high level of sophistication and characterization, one seldom achieved subsequently by the series during its original run, but now quite common since its revival in 2005.  “The Aztecs” is very much Barbara and the Doctor’s story.  Jacqueline Hill and William Hartnell each give one of their strongest performances from their time on the show.

The two High Priests, Autloc and Tlotoxl, are both well cast.  Keith Pyott does a good job as the High Priest of Knowledge, who for much of the serial has an unflinching belief in Barbara.  Towards the end, when Autloc’s faith and his progressive attitudes are challenged by his loyalty to the Aztec culture and his wavering trust in Barbara, he becomes a troubled figure.  Pyott really brings this anguish across.  As for Tlotoxl, John Ringham’s performance practically steals the show.  As the High Priest of Sacrifice, Ringham sneers and schemes his way through the story.  Apparently channeling Shakespeare’s Richard III, Ringham’s Tlotoxl is a Machiavellian figure, successfully pitting characters against one another, including the TARDIS crew themselves.  Tlotoxl is, in my mind, one of the series’ all-time great villains.

No doubt “The Aztecs” sounds like a bleak story, and indeed it is.  The mood is somewhat lightened by the relationship between the Doctor and Cameca, a middle aged Aztec lady played by Margot van der Burgh.  The Doctor initially becomes close to Cameca when he hears that she knew the architect who designed to tomb of Yetaxa, hoping to learn if she knows of an alternate entrance back into it.  But as the story progresses, the Doctor becomes quite fond of Cameca.  And then he accidentally proposes to her!  Subsequently, when it becomes apparent that the Doctor is going to depart, Cameca sadly bids him farewell, and you can see from the Doctor’s reactions that he really has feelings for her.  So, yes, long before Grace Holloway or Rose Tyler ever crossed the Doctor’s path, we see him in a very heartfelt, bittersweet relationship.  William Hartnell and Margot van der Burgh do an excellent job developing this over the space of the four part serial.

It’s certainly worth mentioning that no small part of the serial’s success is due to the behind-the-scenes crew.  John Crockett’s direction is solid, if understandably limited by the restraints of early television technology.  Barry Newbery’s sets are stunning, and ably achieve the goal of recreating a historic, foreign setting within the studio.  Finally, the lavish costumes by Daphne Dare and Tony Pearce are quite impressive.

The Aztecs novelization
The Aztecs novelization

A special edition DVD of “The Aztecs” is scheduled to come out next month.  If you do not already own the regular version that came out in 2003, then I highly recommend picking up the new release.  “The Aztecs” is one of the all-time great Doctor Who stories.  Also worth tracking down is the novelization of the serial written by John Lucarotti in 1984.  The author utilizes the book to further develop certain aspects of the plot and the characters beyond what was presented on the screen.  I actually read the book before I saw the television story itself.  When I sat down and re-read the novel about five years ago, I tremendously enjoyed it, and that is what finally convinced me to buy the DVD, which I have subsequently viewed on several occasions.  In any case, the novelization makes a nice addendum to the television story.

Re-watching “The Aztecs” when it was on BBC America a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that it would be great to have a brand-new Doctor Who story starring Matt Smith that was a “pure historical.”  No monsters or alien invaders, just the Doctor and his companions arriving in the middle of past events on Earth, and seeing what happens.  I don’t know if Steven Moffat is interested in doing anything of that sort, though.  Fortunately, several of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays have been historicals in the vein of “The Aztecs.”  I’ve mentioned before the excellent Colin Baker audio “The Marian Conspiracy,” which is set during the tumultuous reign of Mary I of England.  Well worth picking up.

Getting back to “The Aztecs,” it’s definitely a favorite of mine.  And hopefully it has picked up a few more fans due to its recent re-broadcast.  Almost fifty years later, it is still one of the best Doctor Who stories ever made.

Doctor Who: How It All Began – An Evening With Waris Hussein

Last week, on April 10, I attended the event “Doctor Who: How It All Began – An Evening With Waris Hussein,” held at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan.  Waris Hussein is the man who directed the very first Doctor Who serial, “An Unearthly Child,” far back in 1963.  In addition, he directed the majority of the seven part lavish historical epic “Marco Polo,” also produced during the show’s first season.  For a long-time fan of Doctor Who, it was a real thrill to be able to attend this event, to hear the reminiscences of one of the production personnel who were there at the very beginning.

The event was moderated by Barnaby Edwards, president of the fan organization Doctor Who New York.  It began with a screening of the very first episode of “An Unearthly Child,” with commentary by Hussein and Edwards.  Afterwards, Hussein discussed a wide variety of topics with Edwards.

The Indian-born, Cambridge-educated Hussein explained how he came to be one of the very first non-white directors at the BBC.  He explained how the BBC initially wanted to offer him a position in their foreign office, but how he insisted that he was keen to become a director in England.  I had to admire Hussein’s determination and confidence, in that he turned down a lucrative offer of a permanent, pensioned job with the BBC abroad to accept a six month trial run at the BBC’s home office.  Obviously that worked out well for Hussein, as he spent a number of years with the BBC before going on to a long, prolific career directing at various other television stations, both in the UK and here in the States.

In regards to his involvement with Doctor Who’s early days, Hussein spoke of his collaborations with series creator Sydney Newman and producer Verity Lambert.  It was interesting to hear about how he and Lambert went about courting William Hartnell for the role of the Doctor, and Hussein’s key role in casting Carol Anne Ford as his granddaughter Susan.  Hussein touched upon how there had actually been an unaired pilot episode, and the almost unheard-of decision to reshoot it, ironing out all the technical wrinkles, as well as tweaking the characterization of the Doctor to make him more sympathetic and mischievous.

During the program, someone observed just how unconventional Doctor Who’s origins truly were, for an era when the vast majority of creative personnel at the BBC were white British males.  Its creator, Newman, was a Canadian, its first producer, Lambert, a woman, and its first director, Hussein, an Indian.  Certainly I cannot help think that this must have played at least a small part in the show becoming such a distinctive, unconventional, groundbreaking series, one that has lasted nearly half a century in one form or another.

Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, so I wasn’t able to take any photographs.  I did, however, get my DVD of “An Unearthly Child” autographed by Hussein.  The event was very crowded, so I only had an opportunity to talk with him for a few seconds, but he seemed like a pleasant fellow.

I do have to say, Hussein looks very good for his age.  According to Wikipedia (assuming, of course, they’re accurate), Hussein was born in 1938, making him 73 years old.  He looks at least ten years younger, and very spry, at that.  If I do make it to my early 70s I hope I age half as well as he apparently has!

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the entire seven-episode “Marco Polo” serial that Hussein directed is missing from the BBC archives.  This is somewhat odd, in that nearly the rest of the first season of Doctor Who, barring two other episodes, is intact, having been recovered from various areas around the globe where the BBC sold copies of the show before they wiped their master tapes.  As I understand it, “Marco Polo” was one of the most widely sold Doctor Who serials, which makes its total absence very mystifying.

It certainly is a shame that Waris Hussein’s second contribution to Doctor Who is presently lost.  I have read the novelization of “Marco Polo” written by original scripter John Lucarotti.  I’ve also viewed the half hour reconstruction of the serial created from original soundtrack, “tele-snap” images, and production stills that was included on the Doctor Who: The Beginning DVD box set.  Based on these, “Marco Polo” seems to have been an interesting, not to mention incredibly ambitious, production, and I would really like the opportunity to see an actual episode of it.  (Additionally, Lucarotti’s other serial from the first season, “The Aztecs,” is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories from the 1960s, giving me another reason to wish to view “Marco Polo.”)

It isn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility that somewhere, buried in some vault or attic, there might be at least one episode of “Marco Polo” in existence.  As recently as last year two previously lost Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s were rediscovered.  So we can hope that someday some actual footage from the story reappears.

In any case, “An Unearthly Child” is completely intact.  And it was certainly a pleasure attending last week’s look back on the early days of Doctor Who.  I found the Waris Hussein event to be very informative and enjoyable.  We’re very lucky he is still with us to share his memories and insights into the beginnings of the series.