Doctor Who Project: The Highlanders

You should have paid more attention to your history books, Ben!

With the regeneration and the obligatory Dalek story out of the way, the Second Doctor has the opportunity to stand on his own in his sophomore outing, “The Highlanders,” (Story Production Code FF), written by Elwyn Jones and Gerry Davis. Set in the waning moments of the Jacobite rebellion in 1746 Scotland, the story feels like a change of pace from the Doctor’s last two outings, both of which featured futuristic settings, but in truth, it’s not much different in tone from “The Smugglers” some three stories back, complete with shipboard scenes and a change of heart by an English officer. Only this time, Polly is the action hero, not Ben.

“The Highlanders” is widely regarded as the last of the proper “historical” stories on Doctor Who, with actual historical settings and personages with whom the Doctor interacts, a fitting change to go along with the new Doctor and the series’ new, more youthful approach. The show’s original educational remit has been abandoned (along with the prohibition on monsters and such), but for a final outing in the past, “The Highlanders” manages to convey what made the historicals some of the best stories of the show’s run, mostly by ignoring their rules.

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History imposes certain limitations on the Doctor. He lives under a self-imposed restriction against changing history—or, at least, Earth history that has happened prior to the 1960s—often causing him to witness rather than engage. In stories such as “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve,” this stay on action works to strong dramatic effect; conversely, as in “The Romans,” the Doctor finds that on occasion he inadvertently brings about the history he is at pains to preserve, in this case inspiring Nero’s burning of Rome. In any event, non-intervention is the watchword in the historicals; what will be, will be, until we get to “The Highlanders,” where the Doctor intervenes quite a bit without one whit of concern for the sanctity of history.

The story centers around the flight to France of the followers of Bonnie Prince Charles, the Stuart Pretender to the English throne, and where in prior historicals the Doctor and his companions would be engaged on the periphery of this historical crux, in “The Highlanders,” they conceive of and implement the plot which enables the flight to take place. Absent the Doctor’s direct intervention, this bit of history does not happen. The story manages to be engaging and action-packed, with pistols going off and sword-fights galore, but, one must say, the First Doctor would have had none of it. The series has changed along with the Doctor. Indeed, could one have imagined William Hartnell’s Doctor in a dress?

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Doctor Who Project: The Power of the Daleks

So he gets himself a new one?

The Doctor might be new, but the foe is not. To usher in Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, David Whitaker’s “The Power of the Daleks” (Story Production Code EE) relies on the everyone’s favorite aliens to ease the fledgling Time Lord (and the audience) into the new era. Viewers uncertain about William Hartnell’s replacement could still be expected to tune in for the Daleks, last seen some ten months prior. But, as is standard with Dalek stories, we do not see one until the end of the very first episode, leaving room for Ben and Polly to ask questions of this interloper, whose entire appearance and demeanor have changed.

Care is taken to reassure the viewer that there is a strong continuity between manifestations, particularly with a shot of Hartnell’s visage when Troughton looks into a mirror. The Doctor rummages through a chest and pulls out objects from past adventures, such as a dagger from Saladin and, ominously, a chunk of metal that causes him to mutter, “Extermination!” Oddly, though, he does not refer to himself as the Doctor once in the entire story, even referring to the Doctor in the third person during the first episode when asking if the Doctor kept a diary.

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Viewership figures (as reported in Wood and Miles, About Time 2), come in at nearly eight million per episode for the six-part story, far stronger than those for recent stories like “The Smugglers” (less than five million per) and even “The Tenth Planet” (starting at five and a half million and peaking at seven and a half million as Hartnell exits). The audience, clearly, accepted Patrick Troughton, but do Ben and Polly accept the Second Doctor as the Doctor?

Polly does, almost immediately; her concern is whether this Doctor is so different that he will not want them along. Ben takes somewhat longer to warm to the idea. Clearly, this new figure knows his way around the TARDIS, flicking open the door switch without looking, but Ben calls him out for not checking the monitors to ascertain if it’s safe to leave. The Doctor drilled that notion into all his companions’ heads; if this strange figure doesn’t even bother, how could he be the Doctor? But the reply puts Ben rather in his place:

Oxygen density 172. Radiation nil. Temperature 86. Strong suggestion of mercury deposits. Satisfied, Ben? Now are you two coming or are you not?

The regeneration (a phrase not used in this story) is explained, broadly, as a function of the TARDIS. The exact phrasing—”I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the TARDIS. Without it, I couldn’t survive.”—leaves open the possibility that the Doctor’s life force is connected to the TARDIS not just for regeneration but for his very existence itself, bringing a hint of mystery to the ship that we haven’t seen since “Inside the Spaceship” back in the first season.

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If “The Power of the Daleks” is known for anything, though, it should not be for the difficult task of selling the first regeneration as much as for making the Daleks scary again. An empire of Daleks can be (and has been) played for laughs; one Dalek is frankly terrifying.

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Troughton’s Trove: Nine Missing Doctor Who Episodes Recovered

It reads as though from a movie script: hands gingerly picking up a dusty object from a forgotten archive, wiping off decades of grime, unearthing a lost treasure. In this case, the treasure is eleven episodes of Doctor Who, nine of which had been previously missing, from a television archive in Nigeria, according to the BBC.

The episodes, recovered by Philip Morris, complete the story “The Enemy of the World” and fill in much of “The Web of Fear,” both Second Doctor stories from Season Five. Coming on the heels of the recovery of single episodes from “Galaxy 4” and “The Underwater Menace” in late 2011, this huge recovery gives hope that there are more caches of forgotten Doctor Who episodes scattered about the Commonwealth. This discovery, and its attendant publicity, should spur some careful searching of dusty film closets. They have to be out there somewhere.

Still from The Web of Fear

While we wait for yet more discoveries, the BBC has remastered the episodes and made the two stories (with stills and audio narration for the missing episode of “The Web of Fear”) available on Apple’s iTunes at a relatively reasonable $10 each—a policy I would very much like to see them take with the other extant stories. It’s a small price to pay for Yetis in the London Underground and Patrick Troughton playing both the Second Doctor and an evil Australian dictator named Salamander, I think.

A New Who: Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor

Evil, by Stuart Crawford on, via a Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommerical/No Derivatives license.Well, that didn’t take long. A scant two months after announcing that Matt Smith would vacate the role of the Doctor, the BBC has announced that Peter Capaldi will be the next inhabitant of the TARDIS.

Unlike, well, all the new Who actors to play the Doctor, I actually knew of Capaldi’s work prior to the announcement, though solely from his turns on Torchwood and, interestingly, Doctor Who (in “The Fires of Pompeii”). I’m heartened by the fact that an actor with some considerable experience has taken on the role, particularly after the relative neophyte Matt Smith. Though hard to imagine, Capaldi is roughly the same age as William Hartnell when he took on the role of the First Doctor in 1963; and, like Hartnell, Capaldi brings both a dramatic and comedic background to the role.

I don’t find it difficult to see a sharper Doctor in Capaldi, one with a harder edge than Smith or Tennant, closer, indeed to Hartnell, but with some of the impishness of Troughton. I can’t imagine this Doctor being gravitas-deficient.

Time will only tell if showrunner Steven Moffat allows Capaldi to shape the character in an uniquely personal way or if he’ll simply ask Capaldi to parrot some catch-phrase (“Bow ties are allons-y!”) while the younger companion(s) run around chasing some MacGuffin that promises to tie up a season’s worth of loose ends in an utterly unsatisfying and frankly insulting manner.

(Image courtesy of Stuart Crawford via a Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license.)

No Longer Lost in Time and Space: Two Recovered Doctor Who Episodes

Screenshot from The Underwater Menace via the BBCGood news from a jumble sale. The BBC reports that two presumed lost episodes from Doctor Who have turned up in the care of a retired television engineer who bought them in the 1980s.

As noted in our examination of the only partially extant “Marco Polo,” the BBC routinely wiped the expensive video tapes for re-use, resulting in the presumed loss of quite a few episodes from Doctor Who‘s early years. As Shaun Ley of the BBC observes:

The find makes only a modest dent in the number of missing episodes, with 106 instalments broadcast between 1964 and 1969 still being sought.

The two episodes, “Air Lock” from William Hartnell’s Season Three opener “Galaxy Four” and the untitled part 2 of Patrick Troughton’s “The Underwater Menace,” will apparently be made available via DVD at some point in the future.

I’d certainly prefer sooner rather than later, as I’m slowly closing in on Season Three in the Doctor Who Project. I have the novelization ready to go, but being able to see at least one of the four episodes of “Galaxy Four” would be of some help, as I don’t think the novelizations capture all of the Hartnellizations in the televised script. Until then, I’ll have to make do with the short clips the BBC has made available.

(Image via the BBC)