Dr Who: The Era of Monsters
By Paul Bowler
When William Hartnell transformed into Patrick Troughton during the final episode of The Tenth Planet (1966), a nation held its breath as a new Doctor emerged from a gleaming halo of light to whisk his companions Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills) away to the planet Vulcan, and their first encounter with the Doctor’s ach enemies - the Daleks! If any had doubted that the popular character actor, who was a master at utilizing costumes and make up to great effect (gaining him many staring roles during the 50’s & 60’s), would be able to make the transition of Doctor Who’s leading actor a success; their doubts must have been quickly dispelled as they became enthralled by the new Doctor who emerged from the TARDIS in Power of the Daleks.
As Doctor Who’s fourth season continued apace, Patrick Troughton’s impish “cosmic hobo” would become imprinted on the minds of children and adults for generations to come, battling evil and tyranny from every dark corner of the universe. This “renewed” Doctor was strikingly different to Hartnell’s grandfatherly wanderer of the fourth dimension; Troughton was more like a chaotic Charlie Chaplin. He may have acted like a bumbling fool who happily played his recorder, with his crumpled frock coat, baggy trousers, and a penchant for outrageous hats, but the fearsome intellect within was never far from the surface and nearly always one step ahead of his enemies.
During the next story, The Highlanders (1966/67), Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) joined the TARDIS crew after the battle of Culloden, and together with the Doctor, Ben, and Polly the young Scott would soon visit Atlantis in The Underwater Menace (1967), face the Cybermen in The Moonbase (1967), and battle giant crabs in The Macra Terror (1967) before returning to Earth to confront the shape-shifting menace of the Chameleons in The Faceless Ones (1967).
After Polly and Ben decide to remain on Earth the Doctor and Jamie discover that the TARDIS has been stolen. They trace the TARDIS to Edward Satterfield’s (John Bailey) old antique shop, where they are transported back to 1867 where the Daleks are holding Waterfield’s daughter, Victoria (Deborah Watling), hostage to ensure his compliance as they manipulate Theodore Maxtible‘s (Marius Goring) experiments for their own ends. The Daleks force the Doctor to implant the human factor into three Dalek test subjects, but he ultimately turns the Daleks master plan against them by unleashing a Dalek Civil War on Skaro that destroys the Daleks and their Emperor.
Season Four had seen Doctor Who reborn with the glorious concept of regeneration. As Evil of the Daleks (1967) left the Daleks utterly defeated, the masterstroke of recasting Patrick Troughton as the Doctor had proved to be an unqualified success. Behind the scenes though big changes were afoot, as producer Innes Lloyd paved the way for his successor, Peter Bryant, while story editor Victor Pemberton (a position also held by Bryant for part of Season Five) left to be replaced by freelance writer Derrick Sherwin - who also brought his assistant, the young freelancer Terrance Dicks. The Doctor and Jamie also had a new travelling companion on board the TARDIS, Victoria Waterfield, who had decided to join them on their adventures after her father was killed in Evil of the Daleks. Victoria is brilliantly played by Deborah Watling, who together with Frazer Hinez and Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, go on to make one of the most iconic TARDIS crews of all time as they prepare to face The Era of Monsters…
Doctor Who’s fifth season is often cited as one of the best in the shows long running history. The term classic is often bandied around with great aplomb when it comes to Doctor Who. It is perhaps a fitting moniker for Season Five then, as it not only oversees some of the biggest changes in the programs production team, it also features some of the highest levels of quality and design ever seen in Doctor Who during the sixties. It is this, along with the endearing trinity of Troughton, Hines, and Watling that made Season Five so memorable.
With the new Doctor and his companions now firmly established, Season Five began in fine style with Tomb of the Cybermen (1967). The TARDIS materialises on the planet Telos, where an archaeological expedition from Earth led by Professor Parry (Aubrey Richards) is trying to find the legendary tombs of the Cybermen. As the Doctor surreptitiously helps the Professor gain access to the tombs, Parry’s business partner Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) and the treacherous Klieg (George Pastell) have their own agenda. But Klieg’s plan to form an alliance between the Cybermen and his Brotherhood of Logicians turns into horrible nightmare when, upon reactivating the tombs, the revived Cybermen turn on him. To his horror Klieg realizes that the tombs are in fact an elaborate trap, one designed to lure suitable subjects below ground for Cyber-Conversion.
Tomb of the Cybermen is a fantastic story by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. The early scenes as the Doctor helps the archaeologist’s beak into the tombs and begin exploring are well staged by director Morris Barry, perfectly building the tension, until the team descends into the frozen tombs. Martin Johnson’s set designs are excellent for this story, the chillingly basic Cyber-Symbols are almost like high-tech hieroglyphics, depicting cold logic and function, giving you real a sense of just how inhuman and alien these monsters really are. The tombs themselves are outstanding, they really convey the relentless power and strength of the Cybermen as they emerge from their tombs, still retaining the impressive redesign they had for The Moonbase, but this time they are also joined by their leader - the gargantuan Cyber Controller (Michael Kilgarriff).
There are also some wonderful moments in this story between the Doctor and Victoria, where the Doctor helps her deal with the death of her father by telling her about his own family, and how he can always remember them in his mind. Later the party have to face a deadly swarm of Cybermats, before the Doctor finds a way to defeat the Cybermen and refreeze their tombs, but not before the Kaftan’s partially Cyber-Converted body guard, Toberman (Roy Stewart), sacrifices himself to stop the Cyber Controller from escaping the tombs. It’s fascinating to see such an explicit portrayal of body horror in this adventure. The whole idea of Cyber-Conversion is horrifying enough, but Tomberman’s fate and the graphic death of a Cyberman after having its chest plate smashed - oozing foam and writing on the ground in its death throes - are all clear signs that Doctor Who was wholeheartedly embracing a much darker tone. Even the Doctor seemed to manipulate events in a way that ensured the outcome, with a glint in his eye and a mischievous grin that belied the formidable intellect within.
With the Cybermen confined to their icy tombs the TARDIS whisks the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria to 1935 to visit a Detsen monastery in Tibet. The Doctor sets out to return a sacred bell to his old friend The High Lama Padmasambhava (Wolfe Morris). He encounters Travers (Jack Watling), an Englishman who is trying to discover the truth behind the mysterious sightings of the Abominable Snowmen - who are later revealed to be the robotic Yeti; servants of the disembodied entity known only as the Great Intelligence.
The Doctor is shocked to find that Padmasambhava has been possessed by the Great Intelligence, prolonging the High Lama’s life and using him to control the Yeti through model replicas placed on a chessboard. With the assistance of the Monks, Jamie and Victoria help fend off the Yeti to give the Doctor time to confront the great intelligence, preventing it from attaining a corporeal form, and banishing it back into the great beyond so Padmasambhva can die peacefully.
The Abominable Snowmen (1967) is a highly atmospheric story by newcomers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. It is an extremely clever move to have the Doctor visit the scene of an untelevised adventure, the Yeti and their bleeping control spheres would quickly become one of this seasons most iconic monster’s, lurching into life at any given moment as they stalk the mountainsides and dark halls of the monastery. But it is the all pervading sense of isolation director Gerald Blake manages to covey that really makes this story something special. As the wind howls outside the evil within is even more terrifying as Padmasambhva draws the pieces on the chessboard to their doom, his quiet rasping voice sending genuine shivers down the spine.
As well as featuring some excellent location filming, The Abominable Snowmen has some impressive production values, a great supporting cast, and Deborah Watling’s father, Jack, also played Travers. Even by today’s standards, The Abominable Snowmen stands as a great piece of television drama, and marks the debut of one of seasons fives most memorable monsters.
If the TARDIS crew thought it was cold in Tibet then their next adventure would see the temperature plunging even further below zero. The Ice Warriors (1967) sees the time travellers arrive at the dawn of a new ice age, where Leader Clent (Peter Barkworth) and his team are operating an ioniser device from their base to hold back the threat of an advancing glacier. With the world in the grip of a new Ice Age and completely reliant on the computerized ionisers to keep the glaciers at bay, the delicate balance is threatened when a giant creature is found by a group of scientists frozen in the ice. When they thaw it out, the Ice Warrior (Bernard Bresslaw) breaks free and kidnaps Victoria, taking her back to its spaceship in the glacier where he revives the rest of his crew.
With The Ice Warriors, writer Brian Hayles plays on the themes global warming and mankind’s over reliance on automated technology, with Leader Clent’s rigid adherence to protocol and logic being flung into chaos by the arrival of the Doctor. Much like Tomb of the Cybermen, the Doctor seems to manipulate events from the sidelines, gradually steering the disgruntled scientist Penley (Peter Sallis) towards patching up his differences with Leader Clent, and ultimately overriding the computers control to turn the ioniser on the Martians spaceship.
Director Bernard Martinus casting of tall actors to play the Ice Warriors was a brilliant idea, as they tower over everyone. Their impressive costumes are like armoured shells, with only their lizard like mouths showing, these reptilian aliens with their hissing voices were as ruthless as they were calculating. The Martian leader Varga is played by Bernard Bresslaw (already well know for his role in the Carry On films), and the actor makes the role his own, exuding menace as he plans to take over the base - ordering his troops to execute anyone that stands in their way with their lethal sonic weapons. The Ice Warriors is full of memorable moments: Victoria’s plight after she escapes the Martian ship and is chased through the glacier by an Ice Warrior is nail bitingly good, Jamie has his fair share of the action as well, while Toughton’s Doctor mischievously uses a complex machine to make himself a glass of water and manages to outwit the Ice Warriors by using a stink bomb! The Ice Warriors is a fantastic story, overflowing with B-Movie thrills, and spills, while also serving as a perfect vehicle for the introduction of the Martian warriors from the Red Planet.
The Enemy of the World (1967/68) offers Patrick Troughton the opportunity to really flex his acting muscles with his dual role as the Doctor and his tyrannous doppelganger Salamander. After arriving in Australia in the future, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria find that the world is on the verge of being taken over by Salamander - a scientist who has discovered a form of storing and using solar energy to aid the world while advancing his ambition to become its absolute ruler. Discovering that he is Salamander’s double, the Doctor decides to impersonate the dictator in waiting and ruin his plans so he can save Jamie and Victoria, but even in defeat, Salamander isn’t prepared to give up that easily.
In its attempt at creating an ambitious action adventure along the same lines as a Bond film, David Whitaker’s script is only partially successfully. Sadly not even director Barry Letts could work his magic on this story, and while the central premise is sound, it does stand out as one of the weakest stories during this otherwise impeccable season. However, its saving grace has to be Troughton’s dual performance, and the actor no doubt relished the chance to play the villainous Salamander. Deborah Watling and Frazer Hinez also have little to do; spending much of their time separated from the Doctor, but the final scenes where Salamander tries to commandeer the TARDIS and gets sucked out through the doors into the time vortex at least provides a fitting end for this slightly disappointing story.
After Salamander’s demise the TARIDS manages to avoid becoming trapped in a giant web in deep space. The Web of Fear (1968) begins in earnest when the TARDIS finally materialises in the London Underground, which has also been overrun by huge pulsating webs controlled by the Great Intelligence and its robotic Yeti. The Doctor and his companions meet up with Professor Travers (Jack Watling), who they first met forty years ago in the Himalayas. They learn that Travers brought one of the Yeti back with him, and after accidentally reactivating it, he gave the Great Intelligence the opportunity it needed to try and invade Earth again. As the webs begin to fill the underground tunnels the Doctor joins forces with the Army, led by Captain Knight (Ralph Watson), and then later Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), to fight the Yeti. The Great Intelligence draws the Doctor to its lair, determined to take possession of his body, but the Doctor is saved by his companions and the Intelligences is sent screaming back into the void from whence it came.
The Yeti make a triumphant return in Mervyn Haisman’s and Henry Lincoln’s direct sequel to The Abominable Snowmen. Directed by Douglas Camfireld, The Web of Fear is blessed with incredibly realistic sets designed by David Myerscough-Jones. Although the plot may be little more than a whodunit, with almost everyone under suspicion as the Great Intelligence’s duplicitous servant, this is one of the most exciting stories of Season Five - memorable also for Nicholas Courtney’s first appearance as the Doctor’s long time friend Lethbridge-Stewart. Nicholas Courtney had previously appeared as Space Security Service Agent Bret Vyon in The Dalek Master Plan (1965) with William Hartnell.
Next week we continue with the Era of Monsters with the rest of Season 5 and Season 6.