It's Still A Police Box, Why Hasn't It Changed? Part Two: Koquillion It Was Really Nothing


In our look at the first series of Doctor Who, we saw how the show went virtually overnight from being a well-made but undistinguished making-learning-fun history-fest to the ratings-topping eye of a money-spinning storm flinging around the word 'Dalekmania' in those funny triangular letters. And also how there were too many fucking rope bridges.

After a short break over the summer of 1964, Doctor Who returned in the Autumn with a concerted effort to capitalise on this success in all senses of the word. Along the way, the production team would have to wrestle both with significant changes to the regular cast, and with their own apparent self-defeating wheel-reinventing determination to find the 'new' Daleks while the originals were still pretty much the second biggest phenomenon on the planet. Although the contenders for this honour most definitely did not include...


That Darn Cat!


You may recall that, back in the first series overview, there were a few subtle and restrained comments about the manky bulk-bought stock footage that the Doctor Who production team were prone to using around this time in lieu of having to film resource-challenging things like sweeping landscapes and extreme weather conditions. It's only when you witness one of their attempts at filming a complicated live action sequence for themselves that you realise just why they were so keen to reach for the crumbly bits of cloudy 16mm snipped out of dismal old films nobody liked. A significant proportion of the final episode of Planet Of Giants involves the inconveniently miniaturised Tardis crew being unconvincingly menaced by a particularly disinterested-looking normal-sized cat, determined to inadvertently thwart their attempts to prevent unscrupulous scientist Forester from getting his hands on decidedly eco-unfriendly compound DN6. This in itself is visually problematic enough, but if you watch closely you can't help but notice that the cat itself subtly but very definitely changes between shots, from a tortoiseshell with a straight-down-the-middle light/dark facial fur divide like some lost extra from the video for Passengers by Elton John, to another with a more subtle blend of mug-upholstery, and back again. Of course, this might have been down to the fact that episode three was actually edited down from two episodes' worth of material, and there may well have been some proto-Eurocrats In Brussels regulations about how many consecutive hours an individual cat could spend in Lime Grove, and as such the animal handlers might actually have brought along two mogsters for the recording blocks. But let's not weigh this down with reason and logic, shall we? Incidentally, it's also worth noting that for a swotty know-all science teacher whose primary purpose was to convey educational facts to the young audience, Ian really does come across as a bit dense in this story.


The Dalek Invasion Of Earth Is Astonishingly Well Made


You probably won't be too surprised to learn that The Cat did not manage to inspire a deluge of tie-in merchandise. Nor indeed did it cause Raymond Cusick to bitterly reflect on not getting his share of the rights to it every time a camera was plonked in front of him. In late 1964, though, The Daleks were everywhere, and you could scarcely walk past a shop without being submerged by a landslide of Dalek Fish Slices whilst a shopkeeper with a top hat and monocle counted a wad of guineas and grinningly reflected on the commercial boom of 'Dalekmania'. The BBC and Terry Nation both knew that they'd have to bring them back in a big way, and The Dalek Invasion Of Earth got this exactly right; ambitious, imaginative, action-packed, Daleks every three seconds, and - crucially - an entirely different story to their debut in almost every regard. From this distance, it would be easy to write The Dalek Invasion Of Earth off as a story elevated to 'classic' status by circumstance and hype (and there was a lot of hype - how many ITV shows at the time had trailers that expensive and prominent, let alone BBC offerings?), except for the fact that even now it still looks amazing. Sidestepping that never-explainable cliffhanger with a Dalek rising out of the Thames, Terry Nation's script is a clear attempt at playing with the big-screen big boys, and director Richard Martin rises to the challenge admirably with dynamic pacing, some very fast editing for the time (including lots of cutaways to Daleks, a joke that will be lost on approximately 93% of the audience), a skilful combination of imaginative location work and convincing studio sets, and just generally making everything look and feel 'bigger'. In fact, it's not really that far away from the later big screen adaptation of the story... but we'll come to that in due course. Meanwhile, if anyone has any idea of that business with the two mysterious figures caught measuring Robomen on set was all about... actually, on second thoughts, keep it to yourself will you?


Other Stories Were Less Astonishingly Well Made


OK, so we can point towards the Daleks haring across Tower Bridge, chasing Barbara past the Albert Memorial, and getting a bit soggy at Queen's Wharf, and rebut some of that insistent journalistic twaddle about cardboard monsters made of rubber or whatever it is. And yes, there are other superb effects dotted throughout this second series, from the model spaceship that doesn't look like a model at all in The Rescue to the flamethrower-strewn smackdown between The Daleks and The Mechonoids/Mechanoids/whichever spelling we're taking as authoritative today. Even those giant-sized props in the first story mostly look pretty convincing. When they don't quite pull it out of the bag, though... they really don't pull it out of the bag. In fact you sometimes have to wonder if they'd even known where the bag was in the first place. You'll all have seen that Zarbi walking head first into the camera - possibly even without Pappy's Fun Club shrieking over the top - but there are so many other effect and design slip-ups more worthy of chortling disdain than poor old star-seeing John Scott-Martin. There's Vicki apparently doing her Wii Balance Board exercises to indicate that the Tardis is being forcibly moved, the hilariously unmenacing impracticality of the Mire Beast, the Optera's side-letting-down Ragdoll Productions-esque appearance, and let's not even get started on the somewhat less than advisable 'blacking up' in The Crusade, which is frankly too shoddily rendered even to be offensive. And all of this might well be linked in some roundabout way to...


What's That Coming Over The Hill, Is It A Fungoid?


One of the strengths of the first series of Doctor Who was that even the supporting characters were incredibly well-defined. Alright, so One-Line Wonder The Man From Lop brought down the average a bit, but on the whole they were believable characters with at least serviceable back stories, and were quite often given well-written 'star moment' scenes to explore their philosophies and motivation. On top of that, the production team very clearly spent a long time working on the regular characters, ensuring that their interactions, attitudes and propensity for twisting ankles were always consistent and easy for the viewer to identify with. Most impressively of all, some considerable thought went into making the female characters as strong and independent as was practical at the time, and they even had some dialogue on that very subject. By the time of the second series, though, this has all changed - The Doctor, Ian and particularly Barbara ("Oh boy... THAT was a mistake!") just about manage to cling on to their established personas, and there are a couple of exceptions amongst the rag-taggle of Dalek-fighting civilians, but just about everyone else ends up as little better than a one-dimensional cipher, all the way from the jovial village 'bobby' and the hilariously purpose-free Morok Messenger to new companion Vicki, who is likeable enough and has a good rapport with The Doctor, but never seems to actually 'do' anything as such. This is presumably because the bulk of everyone's creative energies was being given over to the newly-found 'So you like aliens, eh?' imperative, which would be all very well and good if it wasn't for the fact that Malsan The Aridian and company had about as much chance of dethroning The Daleks as Ian And The Zodiacs did The Beatles. And yes, this does include The Zarbi, no matter what volume of 'Plastoid' badges they may have inspired. Of course, this did change towards the end of the series... but more about that later. Meanwhile, on a similar note...


There Are Too Many Stories With A Good First Episode


Admittedly this was a problem that would continue to plague Doctor Who for many years (and still does, if you count the ones that have a good first seven minutes), and arguably actually began with The Sensorites in the previous series, but this was where the phenomenon first took hold. There are few greater disappointments than a creepy, atmospheric and tightly-plotted opening episode followed by three to five of just wandering about going 'erm', and you'll find more than anyone's fair share of them here. Take, as a completely random and not at all obvious example, The Space Museum, which opens in fine style with imaginatively realised spooky stuff about the 'ghost' Tardis and the Food Machine acting the goat, Hartnell's Dalek-impersonating interlude, and a genuinely shocking cliffhanger, and then follows it up with seventy five minutes of meandering along corridors and re-enacting the Tony and 'Control' sketches from A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. Then there's The Web Planet, in which a visually arresting opening episode with the cast wandering around Vortis in their Bespin Fatigues gives way to more or less nothing whatsoever, and adds insult to injury by at least making an effort with all that Top Of The Pops Studio Lights/Jackanory Kaleidoscope mayhem in the final episode, by which time most people had probably stopped watching. Quite how so many writers managed or indeed were allowed to put so much effort into their first script and yet follow it up week upon week with the first thing that sort of half came into their head-ish is something that no amount of production documentation can ever really adequately explain.


They Like Big Butts And They Cannot Lie


Quite what changed in the couple of weeks between production blocks is something that may never be known, but the evidence is there for all to see. And boy, is there evidence. In the second series of Doctor Who, the fun and improving show for all the family, there is a sudden and marked emphasis on casting ladies with oversized backsides, and what's more the cameramen go out of their way to draw attention to this, anchoring their shots on the back-gotters and lingering thereon until William Hartnell deigns to start speaking and they reluctantly have to turn to him. Even allowing for the 'outrageous' ((C) Polly Toynbee) vagaries of sixties fashion, this still seems a bit jarring and, well, over-abundant. This reaches its dubious highpoint - or possibly nadir - when an extra of Kardashian proportions takes a stroll around the top of the Empire State Building, attracting the intent attention of not only comedy Good Ol' Boy Morton Dill but also a suspiciously modern-looking extra, whose reaction was almost certainly authentic. And while we're in that general area, later on in the story there's the inadvertent exposure of Barbara's pants...



Seriously, What's With All The Ants?


In Planet Of Giants, the miniaturised Tardis crew encounter a DN6-immobilised Giant Ant. This is, it has to be admitted, an acceptable and probably even predictable plot device for this kind of story. What is somewhat less acceptable, and certainly less predictable, is the heavy recurrence of ants as a motif in the remainder of the run. Not only is Ian tortured in The Crusade by Ibrahim The Bandit dabbing a trail of date honey to his wrists and inviting his 'little friends' to sample the 'great delicacy' ("such ecstasy!"), there's also the not inconsiderable matter of the elephant-sized ants in the room in the cumbersome shape of The Zarbi. In the second series of Doctor Who, the Stewart Lee's True Fables-esque struggle between man and ant is as all-pervading a feature as the much more widely remarked-upon Mercury and Static Electricity. But why the sudden fear of our eusocial chums? Did David Whittaker live in constant fear of a six-legged army hightailing it out of his kitchen carrying entire slices of cake and joints of ham? Sadly, unless there are any long-lost internal memos headed 'Thirty Two Points Of Worry (Over Ants)' knocking about, we may never know.


Why Are There Only Eight Planets On The Time Space Visualiser?


The closest planet in the Solar System to The Sun, metal and silicate-based terrestrial body Mercury was first definitively observed as far back as the Fourteenth Century. Remotely mapped several times from the 1800s onwards, it was finally subjected to modern scientific analysis when a team of Russian scientists successfully bounced a radar signal off its surface in June 1962. However, news of this clearly had not filtered through to whoever made the Time Space Visualiser that The Doctor 'borrowed' from The Space Museum. Although ostensibly allowing visual access to any moment in space and time within the solar system, it actually only features labelled controls for eight planets (including Pluto - the International Astronomical Union hadn't started saying 'aaaaaaaahhhhh' yet), with poor old Mercury missed out altogether. We can only presume that its close proximity to the sun and negligible atmosphere renders it beyond the technological reach of the TSV. Either that, or whoever designed it wasn't really taken with that Kurt Vonnegut Jr book where those splodgy things hang on the cave walls or something. And while we're on the subject...


The Beatles Were As Clumsily Crowbarred In As Any New Series 'Reference'


OK, let's not set about rewriting history - not one line - as there's no escaping the fact that even by the Summer of 1965, The Beatles were ever so slightly huge. They were already an almost unprecedented two and a half years into a chart-topping career, and Ticket To Ride was not only their ninth hit, it was also their seventh consecutive number one. It was also, it should be added, taken from the soundtrack of their second box office-walloping feature film. That said, however, there's similarly no getting away from the fact that a large part of the potential audience of Doctor Who couldn't stand the sight of John, Paul, George or indeed Ringo, regarding them as an annoyingly ubiquitous and over-lauded passing fad who weren't really distinguishable from Heinz or The Swinging Blue Jeans. At that time there was simply no suggestion that they would make such a dramatic artistic leap forwards only a couple of months later, never mind go on to change the sociocultural face of the entire world and leave a legacy that shows no signs of abating even now, and there were plenty of people out there who were heartily sick of the merest mention of the Fab Four. So when they showed up on the Time Space Visualiser in the first episode of The Chase, was it really any better - for a large proportion of the audience at least - than when the All-Singing All-Dancing 'New' Series gratuitously crowbars in an appearance by a reality TV star or reference to some pop favourite du jour? No, it's not. And it could so easily have been Herman's Hermits...


Was This The First Ever 'Reboot'?


As exciting as The Dalek Invasion Of Earth is, as amusing as The Romans is, as good as William Hartnell continues to be, as much as any given villain might make thinly veiled statements of S&M-tinged intent towards Barbara, even the most ardent adherent of the black and white era would have to admit that in the second series of Doctor Who, there's an overall feeling that they were coasting on their success a bit. Except that, right at the end of the series, something very odd happens. Terry Nation's The Chase, another set of scripts well above the batting average, combines thrills, action and self-contained comic setpieces with a deftness that would have had the average adult series later in the Saturday schedules seething with envy. It also waves goodbye to Ian and Barbara with a beautifully light-hearted and surprisingly 'modern' montage of them pissing about in Central London, introduces new companion Steven as a much-needed mouthy know-all, and most significantly unveils The Mechonoids, the closest thing to a rival to The Daleks until The Cybermen came along, and hurls them into a literal guns-blazing battle with said rivals in a sequence that must have left the average 1965 youngster reeling, or at the very least rushing straight out into the street to 'play' Mechanus. Then the final story, The Time Meddler, not only introduces us to the first ever fellow renegade member of The Doctor's race in the form of Peter Butterworth as The Monk, but is also carried along on a wit and verve that has seldom if ever been witnessed before now. Even the stock footage of longships looks quite convincing, though that shot of a fox appears to hail from another somewhat grainier universe. Frankly there is too much of it going on to arrive at any other conclusion than that the production team had decided to up their game and get more in step with whatever else was grabbing the family audience at that time. Which was... um... well ITV were scheduling Thank Your Lucky Stars against Doctor Who so... erm... had Quick Before They Catch Us started yet? Anyway, whoever and whatever had managed to convince them to dial things up a notch, the fact of the matter is that they did, and when Doctor Who returned after a short break, all manner of mayhem was about to break loose...

...but we've got a slight detour to take first. So join us again next time for A Postmodern Tramp, More Base Voyeurism, Ian Singing The Glory Of Love, and Something About Professor Kitzel Falling Down A Plughole...


And if you want to read a more detailed piece on The Romans, The Crusade, The Time Meddler and all of the other sixties historical stories, you can find one in my book Well At Least It's Free.