It's Still A Police Box, Why Hasn't It Changed? Part Five: Well It's A Marvellous Night For The Moonbase


Doctor Who's fourth outing in 1966-67 marked something of a turning point for the show, featuring the first ever change of lead actor, and what at the time was intended to be the last ever appearance of The Daleks. That would-be farewell appearance came at the end of what many consider to be the finest story of the entire sixties, which shared its intricate plotting and eerie old-skool sci-fi atmosphere with another similarly lauded Dalek story earlier in the run. And those three factors have overshadowed pretty much everything else in the series; this includes the debut and first return appearance of The Cybermen, the last 'pure' historical adventure, and three stories about which comparatively next to nothing is known. Oh and The Underwater Menace, which is fantastic and not rubbish like you thought. Once again, there are huge visual gaps - most importantly, we've no way of knowing why Polly suddenly has The Doctor's hat on at the end of The Underwater Menace - but in most cases there's enough left to get at least a sense of what was going on, and in any case, there's huge swathes of the series that don't get written about enough. So let's not waste any more time and get on with making up for that...


Jimmy Savile References For You, And You And You And You


In the previous instalment, we tried our hardest to swerve discreetly around the blatant reference in The War Machines to that most now-discredited of former Radio 1 DJs, Top Of The Pops presenters and general Fixers of 'It', TV's Scrawny Old Bastard. Nicely averted, you may have thought. Neatly swept under the carpet. Now we can move quietly and happily on and not have to think about him ever again. Well, not until The Two Doctors at any rate. Imagine the 'surprise', then, when The Tenth Planet opened with Dyson at Mission Control requesting that the astronauts change their communications channel to 'J For Jimmy', complete with suspiciously familiar vocal tremulance and audible quote marks. If you're in any doubt, Williams immediately repeats the line aboard the rocket in an ordinary voice, and the difference couldn't be clearer. There's probably a serious point to be made in there somewhere about how these sorry individuals were once a part of everyday life, but 'serious' isn't really the point of this exercise, and in any case, he's part of the reason behind why we're in the mess we're in right now and would probably be quite pleased if he could see the chaos he's caused, so let's just move on. Hmmm, really not doing too well at this 'not serious' business there. We can but hope that something ridiculous is coming along soon. Maybe even in the same episode...


Krrrrrrrail And Krang The Finest Cybermen You Ever Wanna Meet


One of the most pleasing developments in 'Old' Doctor Who in recent times has been the rehabilitation of the original Cybermen. Time was when - largely on the basis of a handful of not particularly unfuzzy publicity photos - the cloth-faced variants with their impractical chest units were at best the target of derision and at worst as good as written out of Cyber-History; it's possible that David Banks might have given them a fairer crack of the whip in that breakfast bar-sized book he wrote about Cybermen, especially as one of the tie-in audiobooks had a little-known 'Lucozade' variant on the front, though experts are still divided on whether anyone has actually read it. When people actually got to see what's left of The Tenth Planet in halfway decent quality where you can tell the blizzard-set scenes apart from the rest of it, though, everyone suddenly realised that they looked quite good after all; the more 'human' approach to their design makes them all the more chillingly believable as cyborgs gone too far, not least because in glorious Restoration Team-ed up quality you can actually see their hands and eyes ghosting through. There's only one problem with this. Whenever they appear on the screen, their arrival is heralded by a stock music-derived bit of electronically-treated trumpet, which picks out the exact same notes as the opening fanfare from Jackie Wilson's Reet Petite. True, it's not like we then get a claymation Hartnell leaping about the screen singing "wellllllll, look about look about look about look about ooo-eee!", but once you've noticed it, it's hard to hear it without laughing. And while we're about it, why were The Cybermen so intent on invading The BBC Globe? And why does the computer text in the opening titles say 'NXOZ' over and over again? Well, you might find the answers hidden somewhere amongst a load of analogue data if you press that whopping great 'LOAD' button over there, as...


They Didn't Half Like Their Big Spools Of Tape


One of Doctor Who's most noticeable weak links, especially in the seventies and eighties, was in its attempts to predict how 'future' technology might look and function. In the sixties, however, it wasn't quite so bad; although there are still some famously risible examples, the 'computers' tended to involve little more than blank flat surfaces, minimalist switches and buttons, and occasional blinking lights. In all honesty this was probably borne more out of budgetary concerns than any attempt at accurately anticipating the microchip revolution, but while they don't exactly look like computers as we recognise them now, they do at least feel a little less comically antiquated and outmoded as a result. That said, they do tend to be liberally decorated with gigantic stop-starting tape spools, whirring merrily away with chunky ferric thickness and nowadays not so much suggesting lightning-speed processing of huge blocks of data as they do George Martin furrowing his brow over those Beatle boys' latest krazy sonic innovation. This was particularly prevalent in Patrick Troughton's first series for some reason, reaching its apex (or indeed Ampex) with the 'four spools to a terminal' madness of The Moonbase, suggesting that they'd have been much quicker in stopping The Cybermen if Brian Wilson had just come in and pressed a few buttons before shouting "top, please". Actually, you can't help but notice that despite some prominent attempts at moving forwards in late sixties Doctor Who, it really does tend to be men who get to press said buttons. Although that said, over in another corner of The Moonbase...


That 'Sexist' Bit Isn't Actually As Sexist As Everyone Seems To Think


She might not look too much like the original Cybermen, but another welcome development in recent times has been the rehabilitation of mid-sixties assistant Polly. Once not so much misrepresented as just plain ignored, to the extent that an official book about 'The Companions' dismissed her with a single sentence that literally said nothing more than that she was in the Tardis once, the fact that it has since become possible to see what's left of her episodes (and hear what isn't) has done much to restore her reputation as something a bit more than just stripy tops and over-washed hair. True, we're still missing some key visual moments like her active plot-dominance in The Smugglers and The Highlanders, and those creepy operating theatre scenes in The Underwater Menace do nobody any favours, but on the other hand there's still her arguing ethics with The Cybermen in The Tenth Planet, puzzle-solving in (if you count that BBC Audiobooks reconstruction) The Power Of The Daleks, and at least halfway entertaining over-the-top screaming in the few surviving seconds of The Macra Terror. And then there's that blisteringly good first episode after The Doctor regenerates, which is largely given over to Polly and Ben fretting about who this mysterious stranger wittering about his fingernails really is. The most frequently seen footage of Polly, however, comes from the second episode of The Moonbase, and is usually deployed to illustrate allegations of rampant patronising sexism in early Doctor Who. These allegations are not without rock solid foundation, it has to be admitted, but this isn't really the right clip to underline them with. On face value, of course, the exchange "You've found something?" - "Oh Polly, I only wish I had... why not make some coffee to keep them all happy while I think of something?" looks about as pat-on-the-head leave-it-to-me-dear mansplainy as it's possible to get. That's when you just look at the exchange itself, though. In actual fact, it comes at the end of a scene where The Doctor has been constantly interrupted by tinfoil hat panic merchants (some of them actually wearing tinfoil hats) babbling nonsense while he's trying to analyse a mystery virus striking down the base's crew, and while a more respectful and sensitive way of expressing it could have been found, he's actually enlisting Polly's help in distracting them while he concentrates; something that is entirely in keeping with her espionage-trained subterfugal shenanigans in other stories, even if it is a poor use of her talents. Also, although we don't know this yet, The Doctor wants some coffee made so he can test his theory that it's actually responsible for spreading the virus. This is far from being the most gloriously progressive moment in the entire history of Doctor Who, but it's also not quite what it gets made out to be either. And while we're blithely raising hackles about sensitive subjects...


No, He Reinforced Stereotypes Of His Own Accord


The Tenth Planet boasts a notable first for Doctor Who, with sixties TV regular Earl Cameron becoming the first black actor to appear in the series in a straightforward supporting role with absolutely no allusions whatsoever made to race, discrimination or background. And that lengthy qualifier is there because the story before that, The Smugglers, features poor old Elroy Josephs in a role that is absolutely nothing of the sort. Starey-eyed, maniacally laughing, insultingly named and ignorantly superstitious, 'Jamaica' fills out Captain Pike's motley assortment of cut-throat privateers in a manner that, while certainly far from offensive or bigoted, would look decidedly uncomfortable on modern television. In fact, given that the story also features liberal use of daggers and a morally dubious position on seafaring lawlessness, it's probable that The Smugglers would cause some serious headaches if it were to be suddenly returned to the BBC now. In fairness, it's probably a realistic depiction of how a real-life 'Jamaica' would have acted, and he does get what sounds like a fantastic scene playing cards with William Hartnell, but it's still a tad unnerving and in some ways it's sad that Josephs - a fine actor and choreographer, an academic, and an individual who did much to change race perception in the arts - is really only known to any significant number of people for this role. Still, maybe we shouldn't expect better from a run of episodes that includes the line "Polly, you speak foreign". Though we should at least be grateful that they never went with Patrick Troughton's original suggestion that he should black up as washerwoman or whatever it was. Anyway, on to slightly less sensitive subject matter...


"You'll Find That The Whole Plane Conforms Strictly To The International Standards Of Air Safety"


Tee hee hee, say Pappy's Fun Club and their ilk on snorty point-and-laugh clip shows. Doctor Who always had cardboard monsters and rubber walls or something, not like when it came back and it was good. And we say bollocks, frankly. Go away and actually watch some of it, then do a considerable amount of reading about the wider context of television production in the sixties and seventies, and then make up some original jokes that are actually funny and have some semblance of a basis in reality. And then go and jump in a bin. Though, let's be honest about it, there's some occasions when you just have to throw your hands up and admit it. In Episode Three of The Faceless Ones, there's a scene in which Captain Blade - who we don't yet know is actually a seaweed-faced alien planning to repopulate his home world with humans - is trying to assure suspicious DI Crossland that Chameleon Tours have got nothing to do with the disappearing planeloads of Club 18-30-type revellers. This he does by boasting about how well constructed their planes are, while standing in front of some flimsy-looking panels complete with a gap between two of them that you could fly a Laker Skytrain through, and as an air hostess hefts some luggage onto an already buckling overhead compartment which responds by, putting it mildly, bouncing. Perhaps if they wanted to fool the puny Earthlings into believing that the cunning replicas of their friends and relatives were the genuine article, they ought to have started by using a more convincing-looking plane.


There Is No Such Thing As Macra!


As you may have gathered from the introduction, I have gone on and on and on many times before now about how much I like The Underwater Menace, including an entire chapter in Well At Least It's Free. So if you want to read my rather forceful singing of its praises, you're probably better headed for there (and it's got loads of other stuff in it about early Doctor Who too). Of course, since Well At Least It's Free was first published, a whole other episode of The Underwater Menace has been found, and there has been much talk of how this has done much to restore the story's previously Atlantean-depth low reputation; although a quick glance at Doctor Who Magazine's 2014 'every story ever' poll reveals that it is still languishing at a shockingly undeserved 224 out of 241. Clearly quite a few things in the world can stop it now. It's interesting to note, though, that with the exception of the two Dalek stories - which we'll be coming back to in a moment - not one story from this series actually appears inside the top one hundred; not even the one with the first regeneration and the first appearance by The Cybermen. Clearly the fact that so little from it still exists - in fact, it's now the only series without a single surviving full story to its name - has some bearing on this, though equally that makes it all the more puzzling that fans aren't more curious about the more tantalisingly obscure stories, and in particular The Macra Terror. On face value, it would seem to have everything; sinister Orwellian overtones, the over-vaunted 'Base Under Siege' format, Nerve Gas-toting giant crabs, the Tardis crew divided by TV and Muzak-propagated mind control, and Polly roadtesting a brand new Mod Girl 'pixie cut'. And yet, although it got more than respectable ratings and even provoked a bit of controversy with the usual planks writing to Radio Times asking why Dr. Who couldn't ever meet some nice aliens on his travels and share his pie with Itchy and then they both have pie, The Macra Terror now might as well just not have existed in the first place. In many ways and on many levels, this is the closest that sixties Doctor Who gets to that tantalisingly lost demo take of The Girl I Knew Somewhere with the newly-recruited Monkees playing their own instruments, and yet to so many fans it's seemingly just something that's there. Or was there, rather. Frankly, this says a lot about the pointless obsession with 'milestones', 'landmarks', 'classics', 'anniversaries' and all of the other ultimately meaningless labels that dictate what we should and shouldn't be taking notice of, and it would be nice to see it found and watch the story leap up in everyone's estimation like The Enemy Of The World did. But whatever you do, don't send drunken texts from the pub ordering certain individuals to sodding well give their copy back to the BBC...


What Did The BBC Have Against The Highlanders?


And speaking of entirely wiped stories, The Highlanders might well have been the last of the 'pure' historical adventures, but it was also the first ever story for which the VT transmission masters were wiped. What's more, all four of them were held up against a giant magnet on 9th March 1967, which those of you who have such trivia indelibly drilled into your subconscious will have noticed was less than two months after they were transmitted. Even allowing for the fact most fans just won't accept that wipings were basically a matter of course and down to a combination of technical necessity and nobody realising that anything might have any use beyond one repeat (and even they were rare), this seems suspiciously quick, especially considering that there were dozens of other Doctor Who master tapes knocking about that hadn't been used in up to three years. What could possibly have offended them so much about a fun costumed runaround that looked halfway atmospheric, gave Polly a Hannah Gordon-portrayed sparring partner to get up to girly hi-jinks with, and introduced a young clan piper called Jamie McCrimmon who proved so popular that he was quickly installed as a new regular character (once his accent had 'mellowed' to 'TV Scots', that is)? Well, the answer of course is 'nothing' - BBC Enterprises had already made their film copies (which they held on to until at least 1974), and had placed a 'Retention Order' on earlier stories apparently in order to make better copies using a newer system; once these had been made, the bulk of the preceding adventures were wiped within weeks. True, this isn't quite as exciting as someone somewhere making some obscure artistic point about the lack of popularity of the historical stories, but in some respects the sheer by-the-book form-filling mundanity of it all is all the more chilling. Solicitor Grey would have been proud. As for why that BBC Audiobooks Telesnap/audio reconstruction never actually came out, though, well that's another story. Although we did at least get to enjoy...


Medley: Mr Sludge The Snail/Can You Sew Cushions?


Along with his not-actually-that-'Beatlesque' 'Beatlesque mop', and the not-actually-that-loud 'loud' orange and black check trousers that were apparently 'taken in at the rate of an inch a week' (presumably resembling Spandex by the end of his run), the blue and white striped recorder was one of The Second Doctor's most recognisable visual characteristics. Even if inattentive writers and directors kept calling it a 'flute'. That said, he never actually seemed to be that proficient on the instrument, appearing to spend the majority of the time picking out shrill random notes in a manner akin to Roland Kirk collaborating with AMM. However, according to production documentation, he did actually play two recognisable melodies in the first episode of The Power Of The Daleks, which had the preposterous titles Can You Sew Cushions? and Mr Sludge The Snail. Some have speculated that songs with such ludicrous names could never actually have existed, but close investigation reveals that they were all too real, if slightly arcane choices. Can You Sew Cushions? turns out to have been a traditional Scottish folk song, which after posing that thorny question goes on to enquire whether the lyrical target can also sew 'sheets' and something about going 'hee' and 'haw' at a lamb. Mr Sludge The Snail, on the other hand, was written especially for the BBC Schools' Radio programme Time And Tune by producer and occasional Radiophonic Workshop extra pair of hands Jenyth Worsley, and its inclusion here was presumably an early nod towards cross-platform postmodernism that didn't quite come off. The lyrics, in case you were interested, were essentially concerned with the fact that Mr Sludge was 'medium-sized', which you have to admit in the snail scheme of things doesn't really mean very much at all. Meanwhile, you may have noticed that the colour of Troughton's trouser check and recorder stripes will have been completely immaterial to black and white viewers, thus rendering the entire history of fan cliche lexicon invalid. As you were.


DALEKS-CONQUER-AND-DESTROY!


Series Four doesn't quite start with a Dalek story, but it certainly ends with one, and between the two they not only overshadow most of sixties Doctor Who, but a good deal of what's come since as well. In that Doctor Who Magazine poll we mentioned earlier, The Evil Of The Daleks sits at number thirty four, and The Power Of The Daleks at number nineteen, voted there by a readership who, for the most part, cannot possibly have seen anything of them bar the lone surviving episode of the former. In some ways, it's not surprising that they enjoy such a lofty reputation. Both stories transplant The Daleks to tremendous effect into atypical styles of storytelling; claustrophobic Cold War-evoking fifties-style far future thriller for Power, and eerie Robert Louis Stephenson-esque Victorian horror for Evil. They are, in many senses, the last stand of the original vision for Doctor Who. What little visual material survives from the lost episodes looks ever so slightly exciting. And above all, they've got absolutely tons of Daleks, even if they do appear to be working to some form of 'only three to be seen at any one time' rule and the majority are either photographic blow-ups or literally blown-up models. But are these positions really warranted? Not so much from the perspective of asking if they are actually any good, but rather would they still have quite as much across-the-board appeal if they suddenly turned up now? These are, after all, thirteen episodes of mid-sixties studio-bound television drama recorded more or less 'as live', and particularly wordy, moody and ponderous ones at that. Given that a worryingly large proportion of Doctor Who fans seem utterly unaware that there were any other television programmes ever, it's hardly surprising that a lot of them don't seem to grasp the context and (cough) 'grammar' of early television, and then on top of that there's those that do get it but just simply - and entirely reasonably - don't like it. If they had to sit through over seven hours of the stuff, how many of them would even make it to the end? Yes, the sort of fans who would gleefully set fire to every last second of television made in the last twenty years to get hold of a single episode of R.3 or On The Margin would be too excited for words, but how many others would be so underwhelmed that both stories immediately plummet to the bottom of the poll to keep The Macra Terror company? Well, we've no way of knowing. It's not like anyone has found them and is refusing to give them back, is it?

Meanwhile, you may have noticed that there have been no further additions to the ongoing They Like Big Butts And They Cannot Lie saga. This is purely because so much of this series is missing that it's proved near-impossible to find any examples, though it's a fair bet that the booty-crazy cameramen would have been falling over themselves to get to the rear of the majorettes in The Macra Terror...


Anyway, join us again next time for Jamie presenting The Clothes Show, "AND-YOU-WILL-BE-THE-NEXT", and of course Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava and not forgetting Padmasambhava...