For many years, season six was all we had from the three years of Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. Up until the late 80s and the discovery of four episodes of ‘The Ice Warriors’, we only had five episodes from the fifth season, and not many more from the fourth. Today we are so lucky to be able to buy more than half of season five on DVD, although we still don’t have a complete story from Season Four.
But the majority of season six hasn’t really been an issue. Only seven episodes are missing of forty-four. Yet it has always been regarded as the weakest of the Troughton seasons and often as a poor year for Doctor Who. I challenge that assertion. I believe it’s one of the most important years in the show’s life, with some great, varied stories too. And there’s more to it than that.
Looking firstly at the stories, it’s worth remembering that every story in Season Six was affected by some issue or another. Three stories – Krotons, Space Pirates and War Games, all came about because planned stories fell through at the last minute. The Seeds of Death was a completely new story by Brian Hayles (substantially rewritten by Terrance Dicks) when ‘Lords of the Red Planet’ was rejected as too expensive. Derrick Sherwin had to add an episode on to The Mind Robber when major scripting issues befell The Dominators and it lost an episode. The Invasion, the prototype to the Pertwee era, was originally a four-part Kit Pedler script which Derrick Sherwin doubled in length and rewrote from scratch. After The Seeds of Death Sherwin replaced Peter Brant as producer too, so he was a busy bee during 1968-69. Yet with all these difficulties, Season Six is one of the most creative, interesting, best written Doctor Who seasons of all.
The ratings dipped, it’s true, but only really during the last two serials. There were a whopping 44 episodes in Season Six and that took The War GamesWho. because there are three stories that are often regarded as clunkers in Season Six.
The Space Pirates – well, Episode Two doesn’t make it look very good, does it? It seems an overly-ambitious attempt at a full blown space opera where a guy with a ridiculous southern accent seems to have a bigger role than the Doctor. Nothing at all happens in Episode Two, and we’re missing the rest. It’s the hardest to reconcile, but without being able to see the whole thing, I think criticism should be tempered.
The Dominators. It’s embarrassing at points there’s no denying. The design is poor and the characters are two-dimensional. However the concept of a planet that is so pacified they can’t defend themselves? Brilliant. It’s a political dig at hippies, and although the execution is poor, and the script needed a lot more work, I can appreciate what the authors are saying. It has quality moments too, when Jamie and the Doctor are prisoners of the Dominators and the Doctor is acting stupid, it’s pure 2nd Doctor/Jamie gold.
The Krotons is worth watching just for the three leads, who are brilliant in it. The Krotons themselves are rubbish and some of the guest cast are poor, but the stuff with the Krotons’ testing machine and Troughton’s response to being called ‘Doctorgond’, is priceless. Frazer Hines plays stupid so well, and never better than in this story.
But it’s Wendy Padbury that makes Season Six a success in my eyes. The writers were kind enough to make her smart, and keep her smart. There are excellent examples of this in The Invasion, The Krotons and The Mind Robber in the fight scene with the Karkus, but it’s The War Games where she really steps up speaking for Jamie in Episode Eight. I think Deborah Watling is a great actor, but the character of Victoria had no depth, and very little function in stories but to scream and need rescuing. This was the fault of the writers, but with Zoe they proved that a strong female character who was smart could work and work well in the show’s format, even in the 1960s.
Padbury and Troughton combine brilliantly, and there has never been before or since a team of three in the TARDIS which works as well and Troughton-Hines-Padbury. You could put them in the direst of Who plots, and they would make it watchable. ‘Time-Flight’ would have been so much better with Troughton, Hines and Padbury!
Season Five is often looked on as the pinnacle of the black and white era of Doctor Who, yet with the exception of The Enemy of the World they are all monsters stories, and only Tomb strays from the ‘base under siege’ storyline. In Season Six only The Seeds of Death is base under siege, but the story moves beyond that as well. As my first ever Troughton video and the first ever Troughton story I saw, Seeds will always be special to me.
The Mind Robber is creative and clever, scary, funny, and brilliantly directed by perhaps the second best director the history of the show, David Maloney. Yes, it feels like it’s aimed mostly at younger Who-viewers, but that has never bothered me. It’s a magical episode, right up there with the best in the show’s history.
In my mind, Douglas Camfield is the best director the show’s ever had, and he gives us The Invasion, an exciting tale with a lot of action, and humour – Troughton and Hines again at their finest. David Maloney returned to helm The War Games, recently voted best regeneration story on the Missing Episodes Facebook page, a ten-part tale that drags less than some four-parters. Written at the eleventh hour by Dicks with his old friend Malcolm Hulke, The War Games is simply excellent television culminating in an epic farewell to the best TARDIS team there ever was.
The moments in part ten when the Doctor says goodbye to Zoe in particular are very moving. Troughton against the Time Lords is also wonderful. The story is not without its faults, James Bree and Edward Brayshaw could have played their parts somewhat differently and more naturalistically, and the magnets as time machine controls have never convinced me, but Philip Madoc is cold and terrifying as the War Lord and the guards are, frankly, hilarious. Kudos also to Michael Napier Brown as Arturo Villar – utterly fantastic appearance that livens up episodes eight and nine.
With the recent return of Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, shiny and new and not seen for 45 odd years, people are declaring Season Five as brilliant. It has its strengths, but for me Season Six is superior because of its variety, not something Season Five can claim in abundance. There’s a base under siege monster story, a fantasy, a political story, a space opera, alien invasion and military story, the massive epic that ends it all and, well, the Krotons.
Season Six is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. But heck, some chocolates appeal to some and not to others, and this season surely has one or two everyone would like to scoff down.
Andrew Boland is a travel writer and blogger, and avid Doctor Who fan since 1985. You can follow his blog and find his travel writings at his WordPress site – World Journeys
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