Category: Gabriel Morton vs Doctor Who

The Sensorites

The Sensorites

Science fiction is a lovely genre because it can wrap great moral questions and challenges to social order up in stories about fuzzy, telepathic scrotum men. The Sensorites, named after said scrotum men, is a largely well meaning,  archetypal sci-fi story, burdened by counterproductive minor conflicts and plot points. There’s something about Doctor Who, outside of it’s more standard 4 part structure, that always seems to have either too much story or not enough. This isn’t to say the 4 parters were all well paced gold, but the series has the nearly unique habit of rushing things when there’s not many episodes (or the modern single), and then dragging heavily when there’s more. So many other programs, particularly in the modern era, hit a basic but effective formula that fits the 45 or so minutes they have to work with but Doctor Who regularly strays one side or the other. The Sensorites is one of those others. It’s split into two main parts, half on a ship and half on the planet of Sense Sphere, and while each could have complimented the other, the writer almost willfully avoids this.

The TARDIS lands somewhere (which is going to be the start of 90% of these) and the crew notice that, even though they’ve landed, the readings say they are moving. What’s noteworthy here is that both Ian and Barbara contribute meaningful observations to the scene, which prompts a small discussion about the previous adventures and how much they’ve changed as a result. It skirts being a hamfisted piece of exposition by being light on details. Barbara’s experiences with the Aztecs are mentioned, for instance, but they’re not described like a personality power-up that have given her x ability. They are simply comfortable with the situation, as The Doctor and Susan are, and this nice little moment both bonds the characters and allows the stories to progress with the humans as active agents as opposed to suffering reluctants. This is a necessity the modern series doesn’t need because The Doctor can accurately fly Companion Girl home when needed. That actually created a new and interesting dynamic, that of The Doctor and his danger being almost like a drug, that The Power of Three and Face the Raven both started to explore before absolutely shitting the bed.

There’s a docudrama on the guy who managed to build a clock that works on boats. He got a docudrama about him because this was actually a really important invention, because it meant people could calculate longitude and actually make their boats get where they were supposed to go. The guy wasn’t a clock maker, though, rather a carpenter, which lead to some unusual quirks in the machine. If it was late or fast by even a second, it was as good as useless because that difference would multiply across the travelled distance so you’d wind up way off course. The road to building something that has never existed before is one of natural errors and this complicated device was no exception. What was exceptional was how these errors were dealt with. Instead of rebuilding it from the ground up with tweaks, he’d add more components to work against whatever error the machine had. The result was a demented monstrosity a thousand times more complicated than it needed to be.

There’s a lot of that in the The Sensorites, the plot does strange things and rather than rewrite it to tidy it up it just does further, stranger things to compensate. The TARDIS crew explore the ship they are on and find a room with what looks like dead people. The Doctor concludes, based on stopped watches, that these people have been dead for at least 24 hours, a fact that clashes with Susan’s noticing that the bodies are still warm. Wow! What a mystery. Naturally, First wants to leave immediately but one of the “corpses” stirs because it turns out they’re just in a form of deep sleep. First corpse, Maitland, explains that they’re being kept in a form of stasis by the Sensorites because they’ve gotten too close to their planet, Sense Sphere. First, Sense Sphere being the home of the Sensorites is one of those dumb sci-fi tropes that never seems to go away. It’s people naming the planet for the species without any consideration of the internal logic of the story. It’s like Earth being called “People Ball”. Secondly, the Sensorites won’t let them leave, but they won’t kill them. They just keep putting them to sleep over and over again using mind powers.

This is the show’s first dive into the idea of telepathy, so they needed to demonstrate that the Sensorites controlled minds but they also needed the story to move so the TARDIS crew are immune for no reason. The Doctor wants to leave these people to their eternal nightmare, again, which is the first example of the show unnecessarily working against itself. The character scene in the TARDIS was useful because it allowed the writers to skip the  First Doctor’s story-disrupting habit of wanting to book it the fuck out of every situation he found himself in, which this story ignores to its detriment. While they do need a reason to not evacuate with the crew, the shown reason is a Sensorite stealing the TARDIS locking mechanism when the plot later says that there were no other Sensorites on board. The narrative could have used the TARDIS character scene to motivate The Doctor to stay and solve this problem. Instead it makes one error and then solves that with yet another.

Continuing this theme, the story goes out of its way to tell you that the crew have been in this limbo for a long time. Right now you are asking how they don’t starve to death. So was the audience, so we get told that the napping duo on the ship’s deck have distinct memories of the Sensorites feeding them. Right now you are asking how they took a shit. I don’t know. They didn’t cover that explicitly but the only available information suggests that the Sensorites took care of that too. This complication adds literally nothing to the plot at all. They could have actually been unconscious and only been there for a few hours. The Sensorites could have had them shut down the ships engines or deleted their memories. They had so many ways to not make me imagine how the Sensorites dealt with human poo-poos but the writer explicitly went out of his way to ensure that I did. Speaking of the writer, he’s actually a somewhat interesting bit of trivia by himself. Peter R Newman, this Michael York looking mystery, was so hard to find information on that there’s a documentary about the process.

“Mummy, I’m dirty and need changing. Change your good boy, mummy”

Writing a plot that makes sense is hard when you’re focusing on getting enough of your comatose scat-fiction into a TV show that you can jerk off to it but not so much that you get caught. Maitland gets mind controlled and steers the ship at Sense Sphere. Yes, “at”, not toward. In fact, this scene ends with The Doctor stopping the ship from crashing and no suggestion that anything else would have happened had he not. I don’t know why or how this was a plan. If you trained Aikido for decades and used it to gracefully draw the fists of every passerby into your face it would indicate you have a better grasp of how to win a conflict than the Sensorites. The characters later muse on this and assume that the Sensorites were never going to actually crash the ship, but use fear to control people’s minds. The minds they already control.  This is that longitude thing I was talking about, a clumsy added scene to correct what would have been a very simple change.

Now that they are close to the planet, some Sensorites make their way toward the ship. The story makes a point of having a high pitched whining noise indicate their approach, a daft physical impossibility that accomplishes nothing but highlight the fact that the Sensorite who stole the TARDIS lock was there when he shouldn’t be. This is making up for forgetting to wear your underwear by cutting a hole in the front of your pants. The Sensorites can also move through the vacuum of space just fine, which is an interesting idea that is never discussed again.

“Lemme in. It’s me, Susan”

The Sensorites explain that the reason they’re doing this is because the ship crew discovered a valuable mineral on Sense Sphere and they fear human interference in their planet after the last human visitors brought with them a disease. That’s a natural fear, perfectly reasonable, so it makes sense that the Sensorites would want to ensure that they don’t have humans mucking about on their planet. The Sensorite solution to this is to bring the humans to their planet, as they’ve built some kind of enclosure for them. A bit like in Bioshock: Infinite when the people who were so racist they built balloon cities to get away from the black people but then also brought a population of black people, there was probably a better idea out there. The Doctor has no intention of being anyone’s pet and this moves the narrative to its primary conflict, issues of trust between species when each has a negative experience telling them not to trust the other.

This basic plot is a lovely sci-fi archetype and is really well executed when the story focuses on it. The ugliness of prejudice is explored but so is how the some of these prejudices are understandable as they are the results of traumatic life experiences. But this is again needlessly complicated by having the “disease” be a small group of feral humans living in Sense Sphere’s aqueducts periodically poisoning the water supply, which isn’t brought up until the final bloody episode. The antagonistic Sensorite’s hostility feels understandable when his perception of humans is based on a negative experience he believes lead to a disease that’s killing his people, and when humanity looks like a bunch of thugs compared to his gentle, telepathic kind. But this lasts too long in the face of all evidence around him and the advice of his own leader and people. Had the hostile human camp been made known at least an episode earlier, it adds a complication to the plot that supports the narrative and themes. Peace between peoples is hard when your niceness is interrupted by someone who looks like you flinging shit everywhere, and this human ugliness would have served the exploration of a more universal prejudice as the real villain. Instead they pop up 12 minutes from the end of the last episode then do nothing but look stupid and get caught.

There are a lot of constraints in making film or television that one doesn’t have so much in something like a book. These constraints are a very visible part of Doctor Who and it’s because of this that they are largely not a meaningful point of critique. The Sensorites makes a good counterpoint to The Aztecs because the latter dealt with its constraints where the former fails even within them. The most one could defend this story with is that is had to be 6 episodes to fill the season out, which is going to result in extra plot complications that one would be wise to otherwise avoid. But even within that, this story has added elements that work against itself. One of the problems with modern Who is it blazes through ideas without ever letting them sit for long enough to matter. It’s just shouted superlatives and magic fixes, but at least there’s the sense that it’s because the story is only 40 minutes. The Sensorites has the time which it uses only to punch itself in the face.

Why go out of your way to have the humans asleep for long enough to require feeding when not killing them at all would have demonstrated the Sensorite softness just as well? Why have the ship driven at the planet, when you could have had it piloted toward it, only to have to have the characters explain that the thing that you just drew the audience into was nothing after all? Why show that the characters have ways of telling when the Sensorites are around when that only points to a plot hole? Why have an antagonist’s hostility make perfect sense and then turn him into a villain, only to reveal a valid reason for his hostility he didn’t know about 12 minutes from the ending of your story? One of the worst modern examples that comes to mind is in The Robots of Sherwood, where Robin Hood has to shoot a gold arrow into a space ship to prevent it exploding in the atmosphere and destroying everything. There’s a million ways one could write this to have it make at least basic sense, but the story opted for there just being too much gold. It could have hit a gyro or something, anything, but they actively said the stupidest possible thing. There’s mistakes, and then there’s stupidity made measurable through how easy it would have been to avoid it. Like the gold, a few sentences fixes a lot of this and if your story is a few sentences short of making sense and you don’t add them, you’re shit.

Conclusion

Aside from a few visible booms, flubbed lines, and an audible production assistant, there’s little of the prototypical Doctor Who problems here. The sets and Sensorites all look reasonably good and there’s not too much scenery chewing so the process of watching it is hardly an embarrassing ordeal. The Sensorites themselves are also a good species, having a sense of culture a depth a bit beyond the kind of one-note alien cultures that litter science fiction. They have been mentioned as being somehow related to the Ood, though I’d rate that a kind of lazy afterthought based on similarities in appearance and telepathic ability. Aside from that, it’s a kind of story modern audiences will have seen a million times and this execution is so frequently faulty that there’s not much to recommend.

The next story, Reign of Terror, is missing bits and I can’t find a copy with the animated fillers so I’m skipping it. I think it’s about The Doctor going mad like Alec Baldwin’s character in The Shadow did and cruelly governing a bunch of Frenchmen or something. I dunno, check the fucking wiki, I’m tired and am still picturing Sensorite’s squabbling over who gets to wipe butt.

The Aztecs

The Aztecs

The Aztecs is a great example of a lost form of Doctor Who story, the purely historical. The last one to ever be broadcast was season 19’s Black Orchid and the one prior to that was season 4’s The Highlanders. All other stories set in known human historical periods have all had some other sci-fi element like an alien piss-farting about where it shouldn’t be. There’s a good reason for this abandoning of one of the show’s core educational directions and The Aztecs highlights this well. This is not to say that the story itself is bad. The Aztecs is actually one of the highlights of the first season, featuring a well realized setting, understandable and almost sympathetic villain, great character moments, and even some historical accuracy.

Doctor Who is a program from the early days of television, made for a young audience with a shoestring budget. As such, you can’t expect its depiction of 16th century Mesoamerica to look like Apocalypto. Expecting it to is a fault on your part, as a critical assessment of how a text accomplishes something needs to be measured only against what was even possible. In this is a good lesson about approaching cultural history and things like the title of the first episode, The Tomb of Evil. Evil isn’t exactly the word I’d use for the Aztec culture or even the practise of human sacrifice, which they did a whole fucking lot of (hard numbers are tricky and disputed but about 20k a year is the one I’ve seen well argued). Human sacrifice was practiced in a lot of places but the Aztecs were about it in a way that really does stand out. There’s a lot of fascinating scholarship that explores the whys and hows of this so I recommend poking about. As for the charge of evil, it’s really more just garden variety cultural stupidity but one that, like the cardboard backdrops of the episode, finds explanation less in measurable malice or incompetence and more in the era and environment. This is a reality that factors into the plot and characters well.

On the measurable incompetence matter, this episode stands as a good example of making the best with what you’ve got. If I wanted to go out tomorrow with my camera phone and make a serious sci-fi movie that had the production values of Fifth Element, regardless of my intentions, I’m a measurable idiot. This is a real fault that someone can be critiqued for. Being aware of the limitations I’m working within, and either creating something less effect intensive, a-la Red Dwarf, or signalling my self-awareness with an ironic B-movie tone, the same garbage movie has to be judged differently. This episode’s writer/director team, John Lucarotti and John Crockett, avoid shots or scenes that would have been well outside the BBC’s capability. The result is a fairly tightly focused narrative whose simple sets work well because they’re never paired with embarrassingly bad effects shots. Think of it like capping your game at a stable 30fps because the unstable 60’s drops are more noticeable than a stable lower rate.

The narrative itself is actually fairly simple, being less about events and more about the characters those events are happening to, and there’s less daft stuff to point out (less, not none) so I’m not bothering with the episode by episode recap. After leaving Marinus, the TARDIS lands in a sealed Aztec tomb. Barbara tells us her focus for her degree was Aztec history and goes to explore. She is caught but, because she is wearing a bracelet she found in the tomb, believed to be the reincarnation of a priest, Yetaxa. The tomb door is a kind of one-way stone trap so the crew, the others having followed to find Barbara, have to maintain the charade while working out how to get back to the TARDIS. Barbara must deal with the episode’s antagonist, the High Priest of Sacrifice Tlotoxl, while maintaining the trust of a more open minded ally, the High Priest of Knowledge, Autloc. The Doctor is trying to find information about the tomb and befriends the widow of its architect, Cameca. Ian is presumed to be Yetaxa’s warrior and because of this draws the jealous attention of the warrior, and Cameca’s son, Ixtl. Also, Susan’s in a hut or something because Carole Ann Ford was on holiday. She has about 3 scenes of reciting Aztec stuff until she nearly gets them all killed in the end. On ya, Susan.

Like how shows about characters with bullshit superpowers need to find reasons to nerf them, Doctor Who often has to come up with some reason the crew can’t get just get to the TARDIS and bail. This got a little easier when The Doctor grew into a superhero, as then it was a simple matter of his motivation to face evil wherever he found it. This got complicated again in the modern series when he could actually control the TARDIS, as a teleporting cubbyhouse of infinite safety you can actually steer is another arse-ache to write around. The Aztecs works wonderfully because it makes returning to the TARDIS the core motivation, rather than a side issue, and one that sensibly drives the three main plot threads. The crew have to get back in but they need to maintain the illusion that Barbara is Yetaxa or they’ll get killed. Barbara has to be the one to do this because of her love and knowledge of Aztec culture. But that love makes her want to change the one part of it she hates, the human sacrifice, which puts her at odds with Tlotoxl, whose life is based around the rituals as they are. It’s his hostility toward Barbara that makes him push Ian and Ixtl into conflict, which connects back to Cameca and The Doctor. Keeping the smaller conflicts and arcs within this tight group means they enhance the story arc as opposed to distracting from it.

This is also a landmark story as it’s the first to broach the idea of messing with history, though it doesn’t do it terribly well. Barbara’s desire to eliminate human sacrifice from the Aztecs makes sense from her character perspective but the narrative doesn’t explore precisely what she thinks will happen if she does. Selfish things, like Rose saving her father, make sense because “daddy not dead” is a fairly simple result. But changing Aztec culture like this is a biggun with no understandable end game. Would it help them beat the Spanish or simply make them more fondly remembered in her time? Similarly, The Doctor’s demands that they not rewrite history is directly stated but given no supporting reason. The old “universe destroying paradox” MacGuffin is tired but necessary given I don’t expect a writer to actually know what happens when you fuck about with time. Suspensions of disbelief with things like this are an inherent part of any time travel story and it’s rarely a valid critical matter to point them out. Time travel fundamentally disrupts how humans experience the cause and effect flow of the universe, so there is an inevitable, and thus negligible, amount of hand waving that goes into it. We don’t get any of that here. The Doctor is serious when he says that they aren’t to tamper with time but that’s about it.

The character focus on Barbara is this story’s highlight. Jacqueline Hill does a fantastic job displaying the degree of confidence her character has developed after 6 stories as she has to balance the trust of Autloc and the mistrust of Tlotoxl while trying to change the Aztec ways and still maintain her position as Yetaxa. Ian is fascinatingly badass in this episode, fighting Itxtl with a remarkable degree of confidence to maintain the idea that he is the warrior of a resurrected high priest. Oh, and The Doctor likes Latinas.

If the internet has taught me anything, it’s that the best milfs are Italians and Latinas, and The Doctor seems woke to this wisdom as he’s quite taken with Cameca. The whole thing is a kind of G rated, old-people romance with The Doctor being largely unaware Cameca is so taken with him and wholly unaware his offer of a cocoa drink is also an invitation to wed. It stands out, though, as one of the very few times The Doctor has ever been remotely sexualized prior to the godawful Rose arc and somehow even shittier River Song arc.

I’m not going to do the modern series so I’ll address this here, The Doctor should never be sexualised. There you go, asexuals, have some representation, you weird little critters. He’s an aloof, alien archetype from a species that doesn’t reproduce sexually, whose development into a space god makes any romantic attachment jarringly out of character. His is an infinite, Zen love for life and existence. It can’t be focused down to a single being without polluting a defining part of his character and the idea he gets horny is similarly absurd. Rose is the best example of how stupid this is. She’s a 19 year old being with a lifespan of about 100 years who would be considered untraveled and dull by other humans, let alone a (at the time) 900 year old wanderer in infinity. I’m 34 and even I find 19 year old’s boring, Rose is a glorified sea monkey one forty-seventh of The Doctor’s age. Naturally, there is no narrative reason given for this beyond “she’s special” which is exactly the kind of meaningless thing someone with no redeeming features, life experiences, or interesting thoughts would think is enough to warrant romantic attention. This is why it appealed to the repellent fangirls so much and why it was grotesque, self-insert fantasy from its chubby hack writer.

Anything Russel T Davies can do, Stephen Moffat can do better and then catastrophically worse. Enter River Song, the personification of telling instead of showing. The idea is at least slightly better than having an infinite being fall in love with a drooling chav mong, but a better way of eating shit is still eating shit. Having anyone be a match for The Doctor in the modern series is going to be a real struggle, showing that kind of development will take time and a kind of deft writing ability that– oh, he’s just gonna say she’s super-duper cool and can do all the things The Doctor does but better and that’s it. Ah, grand. River Song is the kind of Mary Sue Mary Sue would actually write in her down time from saving the Enterprise and the kind of thing that appeals to girls who write long posts about how they’re not like other girls. I hold out a naive hope that Lady Doctor will be spared this insult but she’ll probably end up marrying a Dalek that gets woke after touching the tears of a fat girl.

A lot of the best parts of this episode are good examples of how the series can really benefit from having a more populated TARDIS (beyond giving the writers more sensible vectors for their shitty romance plots). It allows some focus shift and gives The Doctor and other companions time away from the spotlight. The modern Doctor/Companion dynamic is the singular relationship of the show and so if it falters even slightly, it takes the whole show with it. More points of interaction spread the load and allow for more nuanced characters we get to see have roles outside of audience question avatar, kidnap lump, or fated plot device.

Barbara shines here in a way that is entirely within the character as established and as grown over what the viewers have seen. There’s no grotesque camera winking about girl power because there’s no need to cover for a lack of character or narrative explanation. Barbara has both grown through her adventures and is within her knowledge base, so the hard work of keeping everyone alive while they try to find a way back to the TARDIS is something she is self-evidently capable of. Her bind of having to explicitly use the religious belief she is trying to shake Autloc of to resists Tlotoxl and change the culture is a marvellous tension that operates as a binding structure beneath the more active narrative beats. Tlotoxl plots against her with Ixtl, who The Doctor unwittingly helps because he’s Cameca’s son, which threatens Ian which forces Barbara to be more aggressive in how she challenges Aztec law. Susan exists.

About the goofiest things the story provides is Ian somehow knowing a Vulcan Nerve Pinch he uses on Ixtl, the solution to opening the door being a wheel The Doctor has to carve because the Aztecs don’t have it, and Susan throwing every plan into fucking chaos by diving in to prevent a sacrifice in an incredibly well thought out plan.

The arc is an inherently sad one because there’s nothing but inevitable doom. The Aztecs don’t stop their sacrifices and soon the Spanish will be here to gun and disease everything to death, we know this already. Tlotoxl isn’t an alien malevolence tampering where he shouldn’t be, he’s just a standard part of his cultural structure as much as any of the hundreds who have come before him. Autloc is probably the saddest as he has the wisdom to see farther than his own culture and ideas but has absolutely no means to change it, so he abandons his post to Cameca and retreats to the wilderness to ponder. The TARDIS crew escape but Tlotoxl performs his sacrifice and is now wholly unhindered by either Barbara or Autloc. Nothing has changed because nothing ever could. Susan exists.

I mentioned at the start that this is a good example of why there’s few to no historical episodes and it’s because the inability to change anything makes finding a focal threat difficult. Superhero Doctor can’t be used against even the worst of human history because he can’t change it. So it has to be something preventing them from leaving because actual history cannot be thwarted and this is a narrative point that has fewer distracting parts than malevolent alien force. While both equally formulaic, a wacky alien name and the costume/VFX departments give the malevolent alien presence enough spice to vary the formula. That said, it’s been decades, so I’m willing to bet it’s also a matter of nobody wanting to risk resting an episode on their writing alone. More monsters! Look, this one’s also the greatest killer in the universe, aren’t superlatives neat? Wow, we actually came up with a good one, lets do 3 more episodes with it and really grind anything good out of it. Don’t leave a single positive memory, excellent.

Conclusion

I really recommend this episode both because it’s an example of a lost story format and very good in its own right. The production values are still noticeable but the episode does a great job of working within them. The costumes and general appearances have a fair degree of accuracy, though tempered down a bit as you could totally see dicks with the actual shit, and the writer did read up on the Aztecs so it’s almost close to educational. It’s quality work all around. Susan exists.

 

Next story, brain monsters with weird facial hair! I think they’re related to the Ood. It’s The Sensorites!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

So here’s the thing about Doctor Who, only old people can say they’ve watched all of it. These people have to be in their mid 60s now. No, you can’t have been a baby sat in front of a TV. You were a cannellini bean with a face on it who remembers nothing, shut up. Only old people can say they’ve watched it all because large chunks of the series are missing. Ten whole stories are gone, and a total of 97 missing episodes means there are 26 stories affected between seasons 1 – 6. Season 4 is the worst hit, with only ten episodes surviving across a series of 43, meaning things like the Second Doctor’s first story Power of the Daleks and companion Jamie McCrimmon’s first story The Highlanders are missing in their entirety. These are brutal losses to the canon of the show and an incredibly frustrating part of being a Doctor Who fan.

It all starts with people not understanding how technology is going to change things.

In the olden times, if one wanted to amuse oneself with Visible Fiction, one was forced to hire a variety of individuals to perform it for one. About the closest thing you had to taping back then was hiring a memory savant to watch it with you and then recite it back at a later time. Then along came things like film and videotape, which were a far more accurate means of recording than an autistic who would often recite the dialogue with little attention to pauses or emotional tones. The actors guild in the UK, Equity, actively worked against recording things because in times prior, broadcasting a repeat meant re-hiring and staging the broadcast again. They actually argued the idea that if people could just watch recorded repeats, this would reduce the amount of new productions and hurt their business. This meant that there were weird time limits on when a recorded TV serial could be rebroadcast giving any recorded material an artificial and brief shelf life.

It’s this, combined with the desire to save money by reusing the tape, that resulted in the first purge: the deletion of the masters. This is a bit of a shame but it exists within a context where it’s difficult to expect anyone around to have really known better. It would have been considered peculiar to insist the BBC buy new tape so that some loser 6o years later can see Marco Polo. The good news is that, while these deletions were absolute, there were many duplicates and backups of the originals made. Isn’t that nice. There’d have to be some kind of monstrous level of punishable stupidity to get rid of all of those.

So, between 1972 and 1978, monstrous stupidity occurred. BBC Enterprises had all the episodes as copies but got rid of them because it thought the BBC Film Library was archiving them. The BBC Film Library believed it only had to maintain copies of things that had originated on film and thought nothing of disposing of any of the copies it had. Had there been some basic archiving policy, or even just a bit of communication between the two, there wouldn’t be the hassles there are today. This destruction also followed no identifiable pattern or conceivable reason, which is why there is no order to what is missing. It’s incredibly frustrating but there are a few solutions.

One odd fact about this is that there exist audio recordings for every lost episode. Some are actual audio tracks which were recorded, copied or otherwise stored separately. Others are good, old-fashioned piracy. That’s right, where the producers of the original works were half-formed slobbermongs, incapable of preserving their own cultural legacy, the audience were making cheeky audio recordings of episodes themselves. Fuck yeah, piracy! This has resulted in one of the more common solutions to stories where only an episode or two are missing, like The Invasion, animated episodes. There’s a few of these covering missing episodes like The Tenth Planet episode 4 and even the entirety of Power of the Daleks. I’ve watched bits just to get an idea of what they are like and they do fit reasonably well. A tad Archer-y in their look and movement though which I can’t stop noticing.

I’m going to be using these as the canonical episodes for my recaps but that’s it. The other solutions, audio over stills or narration from actors in character, are simply too shoddy and distant from the original material to bother with. This is an article series that is about the television program too, and while elements of expanded canon may be interesting or brought up from time to time, this isn’t about books so I’m not filling in gaps with novelisations. You can, though, and some of the novelisations even have little extras that add more lore or tidy up a plot gap.

So that’s it, there are just missing episodes and you can give up on ever having the completionist’s dream of a full series. Giving up is lovely as it lets you set whatever reality you are in as the base line and then you can cope with whatever is going on a lot easier.

The most important tool in a torturers toolkit is hope. Hope is what prevents this rebalancing of normal. Hope is the primary vector of suffering and it is something that the world has seen fit to taunt the Doctor Who completionist with for decades now. Every time I resign myself to the situation, some lost episode is found somewhere goddamned weird and, once again, I’m taunted with the possibility of a one-day complete series.

The show was sold internationally to various broadcasters so episodes were cast to the breeze like dandelions creating a bizarre situation where missing episodes could actually be out there somewhere and there’s been just enough discovered to foster that belief. In 1991, the missing story Tomb of the Cybermen was found in its pristine entirety in a fucking cinema in Hong Kong. In 2013 the whole story of The Enemy of the World and most of The Web of Fear were found in a TV station in Nigeria. Fucking Hong Kong and Nigeria. It’s shit like this that keep that frustrating fire of hope alive. If episodes can be found nearly 50 years after they were aired locked up in a TV station in a country you wouldn’t ever associate with Doctor Who then they’re all out there somewhere goddammit.

But that’s hope for you.

Until then I’m skipping the missing episodes because they are missing.

You belong to us; you shall be like us,

Gabriel.

 

The Mutants

The Mutants

I’m going with the classic title here as I think it fits the episode better and I sorta prefer when the title retains a bit of mystery. There’s enough Occurrence of the Daleks titles that I will argue the original should always be referred to as The Mutants. It’s a better story than I remember, could probably stand to be an episode shorter but otherwise there’s a solid logical flow of events until the end and some reasonable discussion of pacifism in the face of irrational killers.

The Dead Planet

The episode starts on what is probably only the 4th bit of sloppy bullshit of this story, the radiation gauge’s decision to give it a mo before telling anyone that the outside is a lethal atomic hug. It’s literally that basic. The Doctor asks Susan to see if outside is safe (which is a thing space people tend to do, Ridley Scott) and the radiation gauge says it is, only to scooch up to danger after everyone’s walked outside. This is back in the “The Doctor really can’t fucking work this thing” days, though, and, going by later additions to the canon, it was probably actively trying to kill the person who stole it. So out they wander into the grim fallout of the final war between the Thals and (what this story calls) the Dals.

The Doctor and Susan explore the forest while Ian and Barbara mull over how to deal with him, deciding they have to stick close as he’s their only way home. This is an element lost from the newer series and it has really contributed to a degree of sameness in modern companions. There’s a natural conflict point when the companions are unwilling abductees that makes for a dynamic one can’t explore when adventures are willing jaunts with accurate return trips. Modern companions whine about being let down, Ian and Barbara openly hope something bad happens to First, with Barbara saying, “Don’t you ever think he deserves something to happen to him?” which I find fucking hilarious. Ha, find some stairs in the TARDIS and push him down them.

Speaking of the TARDIS, early episodes tended to give it a bit more of a standard ship feel with large banks of computers and other regular looking equipment about. This episode also features a food maker, that comes with a little menu book full of codes one dials into it like a vending machine. The results are retro-future-y little bricks of what looks like chicken stock but taste exactly like whatever you’ve dialed in which feels a little lo-tech for Timelords but fits with what the 60s thought the future would be like. This is another thing I feel is really missing from the modern series. They have a nice control room set and that’s it. Fuck you, build some more shit or film it wherethefuckever, the TARDIS is the size of a planet and I want to see where people sleep and eat. The internet has already shown me where they shit. I don’t need to see that again.

The exploration of the planet is fairly dry filler. Susan finds a lovely preserved flower that Ian helps pick, only to crush it when Barbara is freaked out by a weird bit of Skaro fauna. The Doctor spots a city and, as curiosity has always been his downfall, absolutely must have a look. There’s no sense of The Doctor as a superhero fixer of universal injustices in these early days. That probably didn’t really come about until Baker and the modern series has made it a foundation of the character but this wasn’t entirely a piece of lazy flanderisation. The Doctor is around 236 at this point and over 2000 by the most recent series end (not counting the billions of repeated years in Heaven Sent) so we are witnessing a very young Doctor in a very young universe as yet unfucked by his constant mucking about. There’s no Time War here or any of the other experiences that will turn him into the minor deity he currently is. As such, a lot of what you see in these early days is less poor writing and more actual character development which is what makes a Ian’s haranguing him about being a shit so interesting. A lot of The Doctor’s early moral development comes from Ian and Barbara.

The Doctor won’t be denied his greedy want to explore the city and fakes a fault in the TARDIS to come up with the nonsense excuse that they must search it for the mercury they need for repairs. Ian knows it’s bullshit, but they’ve no choice and he’ll be the only suspect if The Doctor comes down with a case of beaten to death. Meanwhile, a Thal has been politely stalking Susan (she’s a magnet for stalkers, must be her fault) who leaves a mystery canister outside the TARDIS. Ian jabs it with a stick, the universal means of testing if something will fuck you up or not, but it’s not a landmine or anything. It’s a canister of fucking rad mystery drugs! To be fair, I wouldn’t take anything unless I had at least the vaguest idea what it was. Fun’s fun but I don’t want to Mia Wallace myself. They leave the drugs in the TARDIS and go poke about the city. Ian has the absurdly Scoobian plan to split up and explore a city full of doors that close on their own which, somehow, leads to Barbara getting separated. Her screaming at the plunger that menaces her at the end of the episode is still a bit comic. Granted she’s stressed and probably wasn’t expecting anything but the Daleks don’t exactly have the immediate fright of a xenomorph or Thing.

There’s a remarkable maturity to these early series, made doubly impressive by the fact that it is still pitched at children. Ian and Barbara are acutely aware of the ridiculous danger of the situation and this is presented with quite stark realism. Modern Who evades this a little by having off-camera fun adventures where nobody is exploded but that kind of telling doesn’t effectively contrast the death we’re seeing. It juxtaposes nastily with the companion’s continued desire to adventure, a little like a friend of yours taking you on trips to do extreme sports and one of his friends dying every time. You’d not keep going and you sure as shit wouldn’t bungee jump with them if the last person who did was eaten by rabid crows during the descent.

The Survivors

I quite like the title of this one. It’s another that doesn’t give too much away which effectively plays to the episode. It’s not The Evil Machines that are EVIL, and it supports something I miss of very early Who which is the treatment of enemies as other races instead of monsters. Monsters and evil are inherently two-dimensional and this leads to a lack of narrative options when coming up with events or conflicts. The Daleks here are survivors of a war, characters with a need to survive and a continuing hate for their enemy. This is understandable as their society has persisted in isolation and their hate hasn’t had any opportunity or reason to subside. Counter to this are the Thaals, whose return to a communist agrarian society has changed them into pacifists. Their active society has given them full lives that distract them from a nursed hate. It’s the kind of characterisation that functions as background world building which the modern series’ shorter story time could well use.

The TARDIS crew, now suffering from radiation poisoning, are imprisoned by the Daleks. They surmise that the drugs they found were anti-radiation drugs and need to get back to them. The Daleks want the drugs too as they believe they’ll let them leave their city, and so send Susan (the only one who can still walk) out to retrieve them warning that she may encounter the “disgustingly mutated” Thals on the way. This story is 7 episodes and, while this one is not bad in isolation, as part of a whole it provides little that couldn’t have been accomplished in a single scene. About the only real highlight is the Dalek line “A few questions will reduce the mystery” which I’d rate as a quality bit of linguistic flair for an alien species being translated to English. You can tell a lot about a culture by its language and this line suggests the Daleks see mystery as a dominant state to be reduced as opposed to a human who’d “get some answers” to return to a state of comfortable knowing.

Nothing else happens! Fucking woo! Next fucking episode.

Gabriel Morton vs Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

Gabriel Morton vs Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

It’s the 22nd of November, 1963 and President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, removing the final obstruction to the BBC launching a subversive fictionalised science programme designed to bring about the pansexual, socialist utopia. Doctor Who, started when my dad was 7 and cancelled when I was 6, has delighted audiences, listeners and readers for 54 of your Earth years. Given how it is going now, this could very well continue for another 50. Doctor Who has a combined run time of February, and a big chunk of that is material a large portion of the modern viewership has not seen given that they were either not alive for the original run or old enough to watch it on VHS during its 16 year hiatus. This has created a gap in the fan community, between those who have seen all the old lore and the modern, or Nu-Who, fans. There’s a cohort of Nu-Who fans who operate under the impression that a decade long glimpse into the 54 year canonical clusterfuck that is Doctor Who gives them some level of authority upon which to speak. A full Cyber-Conversion wouldn’t give these shrieking cretins the logical capacity to fix that error. The rest are simply a bit daunted by the idea of catching up.

GOOD NEWS! I’m here to do it for you.

The last time I watched it all was out of order and before a few recent discoveries filled holes in the missing episodes list. So now that Enemy of the World and Web of Fear are largely back, and with some animated fill-ins for a few missing episodes and the entire Power of the Daleks, I’ve decided to saddle up and go at it once more. Join me on a journey into publicly funded production values, missing episodes, and an original run that didn’t know canon mattered.

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