IdleHands and friends dip into a selection of stories from a selection of Doctors in their own wee celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who
Hats off to everyone who has managed a more complete cosmic wander through the adventures of the Time-Lord, but we knew from the off that we'd not be able to manage that.
Instead, we've taken some slices of our favourite Doctors to enjoy. It's not always our favourite stories. Sometimes it's just stories that one or more of us had not seen. But these prime cuts are a testament to a show we love, a show marking a 60th Anniversary with an awfully bright future ahead.
I've already looked at William Hartnell's First Doctor, covering The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, The Rescue, Galaxy 4 and The War Machines.
For Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor? We went with The Dominators, The Mind Robber and The War Games.
William Hartnell will always be the man who launched the character and the concept, but in truth the footsteps in which every other Doctor has stepped are those of Patrick Troughton's sly, mischievous meddler. It's his performance that has fed through most readily down the regenerations (well, his and Pertwee's). Had they gotten this wrong, this initial cheat to keep the show going, this mother of all necessary inventions, Doctor Who would not have lasted. Troughton's triumph is fundamental to the show's ability to last; if it could successfully evolve once, if it could survive that first seismic change, it could do so again. And again.
He's brilliant from the off, is Troughton. He's sleekit and cunning, a Holmes disguised as a Chaplin. His era was for quite some time pockmarked by missing stories, lost seemingly to all but those intrepid devotees who had the fortitude to endure the tele-snaps, novels and audio releases. Those holes have now been filled in large part by animated stories, full and partial, which is bittersweet. It's great that we have these stories, like The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, The Evil Of The Daleks, Fury From The Deep and The Abominable Snowmen. We even have his first one, the first ever post-regeneration story, in the excellent Power Of The Daleks. It's a shame, though, that of all the Doctors, it is Troughton who has been replaced so often by an avatar. His performances are so physical, his face so expressive. He can communicate so much with a convulsion, a furtive glance, a twitch, that as good as the animation often is, you just know you're missing out on something telling, something interesting, or something plainly hilarious.
With the stories that do survive, and the animations stopping most of the gaps, a proper accounting of his time at the console is much easier to make. How does it measure up, then?
The Second Doctor's era is comfortably up there with the very best in the entire 60 year history of the programme.
So many of his episodes are outstanding, which helps. I've mentioned some already, and every one of them is a belter, but you've also got The Moonbase and The Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Web Of Fear and The Invasion. Brilliant Doctor Who, led by a brilliant Patrick Troughton.
The three we eventually settled on, then? What tips it for their inclusion is an intent to focus on what is, for our money, the best Tardis Team thus far. Better than Capaldi's Twelfth, Bill and Nardole. Better than Pertwee's Third and Jo Grant. Better even, somehow, than Tom Baker's Fourth and Leela of The Sevateem.
The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. The best of the best.
Troughton's Doctor and Fraser Hines' Jamie McCrimmon are quite obviously the best friends in all of Doctor Who (honourable mentions for Jago & Litefoot, Matt Smith's Eleventh & Amelia Pond and Pertwee's Third & The Brigadier). Indeed, I find myself inordinately irked when I hear anyone else ever referred to as The Doctor's best friend in the rest of the show. No they bloody well are not. Jamie is. Jamie obviously is.
Their back and forth about pretending to be unintelligent whilst at the mercy of the Dominators is joyous, as is their incredulity at the Dulcians. Their attempts to fly, or rather, to land the rocket, is just great acting between actors with a remarkable chemistry. Hines deserves every bit as much credit for this as Troughton, of course. I don't give a toss that it's not an actual Scot playing the part, or that the accent (very occasionally) slips now and then. Heaven knows we're used to seeing that, on English TV and American films both. Hines is brilliant, and Jamie is the best companion the show has had to date.
Jamie learns and grows, without ever losing the character's core. He's brave and clever and daft and soft-hearted. He jumps from time to time to a conclusion or two, but is thoughtful enough to admit it and decent enough to apologise.
Hines can be hilarious in the comedy moments, sincere in the drama and gets right stuck in to the action, too.
His brilliance when paired with Troughton isn't all he has going for him, either. The connection between them is obvious and it bleeds through to their characters, who have an affection for each other that hits you right in the heart when played straight, and makes you chuckle warmly when played for laughs.
However, Jamie is more than comfortable when he's away from The Doctor, like when he leads Cully on an assault against the Quarks in The Dominators or when taking out Roman soldiers, American Civil War Soldiers and the minions of The War Lord in The War Games.
Hines' catching chickenpox during The Mind Robber meant he's missing from episode 2 and, whilst the workaround is another fine bit of on-the-hoof problem solving, you really do miss him, and find yourself quite literally telling The Doctor and Zoe which pieces of face on the board are his pieces of face, in hopes of seeing him returned to the adventure.
Speaking of Zoe, it is to be hoped that the rest of her debut in The Wheel In Space can be given the animation treatment, so the entire run of this outstanding trio can be enjoyed properly. Companions from 'The Future' are rare, and Zoe Heriot's easily the best. Wendy Padbury plays the exceptional intelligence really well, and sells the sibling dynamic with Jamie brilliantly.
Zoe is a genius without being infallible, independent without being invulnerable, and she's wittily funny, to boot. She serves as a great balance in the trio, whilst also allowing some of the scientific thinking, not to mention the gobbledygook, to come from a source other than The Doctor now and then.
Her terror and confusion in The Time Meddler feel palatable, and she's an integral part in saving the day, too. She's inevitably playing third fiddle behind Troughton and Hines, but Padbury makes the most of every script she gets, and is very present in all three of these stories. Her interplay with both leads is strong and you wish she'd had more than the seven (eight if you count the entirely lost Space Pirates) stories to push forward the character and her relationships with Jamie and The Doctor.
The Dominators doesn't seem to be held in the highest of regards, but I love this odd wee story. I love the animosity between the eponymous antagonists. It feels that bit more authentic, and lends the story that little frisson which marks it out as distinct from many other Doctor Who's. They're both very good in it, Kenneth Ives as Toba and especially Ronald Allen as Rago. They drip with malice and speak exclusively with venom. They bicker and undercut one another, sabotaging their own mission in the process, which is a neat little point to get across. Their inability to work effectively together towards their common goal seeds directly into their defeat, as does their inherent tendency to dismiss the other beings they seek to subjugate.
There's nothing wrong with the Quarks, either; not only are they a good design, they suit their masters. The Quarks are exactly the kind of cumbersome, lumbering servants Dominators would design. They are deadly, of course, but everything else about them serves to demonstrate the need of their creators to feel powerful, to look powerful. They are designed by a species who call themselves The Dominators, after all. They're undeniably memorable, which is half the battle. Indeed, evidence seems to suggest they proved very popular with the audience at the time. They get a mention at the end of The War Games, possibly on that very basis. The Dulcians are admittedly one-note, but at least the 'hippy' role is cast differently here as a bureaucracy of 'peacenicks'. It's not brilliant, but it's fine.
Whilst The Dominators is no dog's dinner in and of itself, the lead cast could cover a multitude of sins. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are irresistible, as perfectly encompassed by the moment they prepare the explosive weapon with which to fight back against the Quarks.
This triumvirate are excellent once again in The Mind Robber, but frankly this story make the list regardless on the strength of the opening episode alone. The first episode of The Mind Robber is probably the best 20 minutes of Doctor Who ever broadcast. Quite what audiences watching live at the time made of it I don't know, but it's an avant-garde triumph of surrealist visual storytelling, the existence of which genuinely stuns me. The final moments of that episode feature quite astonishing iconography, moments that must have melted into the mind of everyone who has ever seen them.
It's astonishing, the kind of genius that could only have come about by accident, which indeed it was (The Dominators was cut from 6 parts to 5, meaning an opening episode of this serial had to be put together hastily and on the cheap).
The rest of the story is nothing much like that bravura opening, but it's still an excellent, inventive story, full of wonderfully imaginative writing and, once again, fantastic performances from the cast. Hines' temporary absence means Padbury feels even more integral, and her scenes with Troughton as they face The Medusa and enter the maze of the Minotaur showcase their interplay.
Then there's The War Games, which must be in the conversation amongst the best stories the programme has ever produced. It's an epic finale for the Troughton era, one which builds gradually from an all-is-not-as-it-seems WW1 mystery into a monumental showdown with myserious forces which has immense consequence for the future of the character and the show. I had the joy of watching it recently with someone who had never seen it before, nor knew the significance it holds in the history of the programme. Their smacked gob as the realities dawned on them ("here, those are like the TARDIS. No, they are really like the TARDIS". "He recognises him! The Doctor recognises HIM!" and 'oh my actual god, THE TIME LORDS!") was an unadulterated joy.
It's safe to say Time Lords have never since felt quite so consequential, nor so terrifying. The Doctor desperately trying to flee them after being aghast at having to contact them in the first place is genius and Troughton plays it beautifully. The slow motion dash to the TARDIS, the organ music swelling ominously, The Doctor's eventual acceptance that there's nothing he can do about, it all feeds into the enormity of what is unfolding. You really do feel it.
And then Jamie and Zoe are sent back to their timelines, their memories of The Doctor erased but for their first meeting. That had more emotional impact than Donna being mindwiped, or The Doctor having to leave Sarah Jane behind to head to Gallifrey. "Now Look, if you're going to be in trouble you'll need me to look after ye" Jamie tells The Doctor, as he refuses to leave his best friend to face these Time Lords, these posh alien choir-boys, alone. The sincerity is adorable, and hard to take. "I won't forget ye, ye know". A Sgian Dubh to the heart. It's incredibly unfair, and effective all the more for it (Jamie does at least get to bow out in action, chasing after one of those blasted Redcoats). Zoe too is cast back to the space wheel from whence she came, a profound look of loss on her face as she thinks about The Doctor and Jamie, who have now departed in the TARDIS without her instead of her going on adventures with them.
It's brutal, and would definitely be undone in the modern era of the show, but sometimes breaking the heart of the audience is exactly what you ought to do.
You then get The Doctor and his forced regeneration, Troughton spinning away in agony, one last chance to use that remarkably expressive face (not withstanding future appearances, I know, I know) and the closing of the door on the black and white period of the programme. Next came colour, and Jon Pertwee's own reinvention of the character. Troughton took over the role and changed both it and the show forever. As these stories demonstrate, he did so with great gusto, great performances, great stories and the help of The Doctors best friends.