A Modern Woman’s Guide To Classic Who: THE SECOND DOCTOR YEARS: 1966-1969December 27th, 2010 at 19:30
Summary: The concept of regeneration, now one of the most iconic features of Doctor Who, allowed for a new lead actor to create a very different interpretation of the role. Troughton’s Doctor left aside the grumpy anti-heroics of William Hartnell to be a far more emotional, vulnerable Doctor, capable of high dramatics and physical comedy as well as something of a cunning streak. With only one early exception, the Second Doctor stories moved away from historicals, sticking with science fiction adventure for the most part. When it did utilise historical elements or settings, they were combined with alien or other science fictional concepts, a tradition which has continued into New Who. This is an era of monsters and mad science, with occasional moments of batty genius.
More so even than the Hartnell Years, the Troughton Years suffered from the BBC film destruction, so very few whole stories are archived. For this reason perhaps even more so than the First Doctor, the Second Doctor is often remembered more by fans for his later appearances in the show (The Three Doctors in the 1970’s, The Five Doctors & The Two Doctors in the 1980’s).
Things You Need To Know: The sonic screwdriver and jelly babies both made their first appearances in Second Doctor serials. And he still can’t steer the TARDIS. Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge Stewart and Benton both make their first appearance in this era, as do the Ice Warriors and the Yeti. Yes, Yeti!
Ben and Polly (Michael Craze and Anneke Wills) carry over from the First Doctor Years, and are soon joined by Jamie, a young Highlander who proved the point that a character from an earlier time zone can be an effective companion.
After another of those ‘quick, this is our stop, jump off while we can’ farewells for the sailor and the duchess, the companion formula settles firmly into “Doctor + Jamie + girl” for the remainder of this run. The chemistry between the Doctor and Jamie was brilliant from their first story together, and you can see (or rather, read/hear) why they decided to take Jamie on as a companion.
Like the Heroic Blokes of the First Doctor era, Jamie is far more likely to pick up a weapon than the Doctor is, and is very brave. He and the Doctor share a childlike, quite innocent sensibility that works surprisingly well and turns every story into a Glorious Romp. Jamie’s lack of cultural reference after the 1800’s is easily handled by him dismissing anything he doesn’t understand (such as the TARDIS) as magic, and he proves very capable of dealing with alien menace. After The Highlanders he is mostly quite wasted until The Faceless Ones, because the decision to include him as a companion was a last minute one, and so he has a few stories in which his only contribution is the occasional line stolen from Ben and Polly, and he is forced at times to take episode-long naps in order to get him out of the way.
Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling), daughter of a mad scientist of the Victorian era who got a little too close to some Daleks, was a bit of a sweetheart and paired up very nicely with Jamie. Only one of her stories survives: the Tomb of the Cybermen, which is generally regarded as a fan classic. Known affectionately by some as ‘leatherlungs,’ Victoria turned screaming into an art form, and in her final story was allowed a chance to use her scream as a deadly weapon against the monsters. Black Canary, eat your heart out.
Zoe (Wendy Padbury): it may be partly due to story-survival that Zoe’s pairing with Jamie is seen as the classic Second Doctor companion combo, as the majority of extant Second Doctor stories are from the last two years of the run, but it can’t be denied that this trio are fantastic together. As a girl from the future, Zoe offered a strong contrast to Jamie’s more primitive attributes. Her intelligence and computer geniusness is not only celebrated but, unusually for a Doctor Who companion, is not forgotten after her opening story. We often see her bonding with the Doctor over their shared intelligence, just as the Doctor and Jamie bond over their adventurous nature. Zoe’s best moment: talking a computer into destroying itself.
Yes, that really is all the companions. The pickings are rather slim, compared to the First Doctor Years, especially if you take into account that the Second and First Doctor were both around for roughly the same amount of time.
Feminist Heroes: Zoe Heriot, with little competition.
Best Stories You Can’t Watch:
Ben and Polly get some unusually crunchy material to deal with in The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders, neither of which survive in the archives. Power is thought by many to be one of the best Dalek stories of all time, and it does come across very well as an audio adventure, as a claustrophobic SF thriller that shows just how devious the Daleks can be. It also depicts the isolation and fear felt by Ben and Polly as they try to adapt to the idea that the Doctor has turned into a different man. This is hugely effective because they are stranded in an alien time and place – the Doctor is their ride! It’s also interesting because of how much was borrowed from this story for the recent Victory of the Daleks – the idea of Daleks masquerading as helpful robots and the Doctor being the only one who knows different is very effective, especially as even his companions don’t trust him yet.
The Highlanders was my favourite Target novelisation when I was young and this was largely the reason that I adored Polly. (It’s also available as an audio adventure which I listened to much more recently) It benefits from pairing Polly with a Highlands lass so shrill and wet as to make Polly seem like a modern woman (to understand how important this is you have to have seen the episode of the following story The Moonbase in which Polly literally makes the tea for everyone) and allows her to play a cheekier, bolshier version of herself than we usually see (more like the old Polly we were introduced to in The War Machines). Also Ben gets a plotline in which being a sailor is actually relevant, while the Second Doctor capers around entertainingly with highlander Jamie and gets to drag up for the sake of espionage.
The Evil of the Daleks, the story which introduced Victoria, is also an iconic one to listen to if you like the audio versions, introducing the fascinating idea of Daleks trying to use human characteristics to make themselves smarter and more adaptable. Also worth listening to is The Web of Fear, which introduces Nicholas Courtney as Colonel (later Brigadier) Lethbridge Stewart and brings the Yeti (previously introduced in Second Doctor story The Abominable Snowmen) into the London Underground.
Best Stories To Watch:
Title: Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)
Featuring: the Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, Cybermen, Cybermats
Why Watch: It’s Matt Smith’s favourite Classic story, you know! The discovery of this story after many years lost to fans was greatly exciting, as it had long been romanticised at the Best Who Ever. While I don’t think it’s that, this is certainly one of the best and most evocative uses of the Cybermen, the story based around a group of space archaeologists who dig up more than they bargained for. It’s quite a dark story with a strong female antagonist and has some very effective horror moments, and it’s the only chance to see Victoria in action.
Or Not: there’s some casual “of it’s time” racism in this one, surrounding the character of Toberman, which is cringy to watch, and may spoil the enjoyment for many viewers.
Category: Mad Science
Title: The Mind Robber (1968)
Featuring: the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, Rapunzel, Gulliver, Karkus
Why Watch: One of my favourites of all time, and if you have kids who can cope with black and white TV, it’s probably the most family-appealing of all the classic stories. The TARDIS crew crash into the Land of Fiction, the TARDIS itself is destroyed in dramatic fashion, and there are Toy Soldiers everywhere… a cleverly written script managed to take a storybook concept and make it into a great, surprisingly suspenseful Doctor Who adventure.
Category: Fantasy With Bolts on
For Extra Credit: Check out Conundrum by Steve Lyons, one of the New Adventures novels which modernises the Land of Fiction.
Title: The Invasion (1968)
Featuring: the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, the Brigadier and Benton, Cybermen
Why Watch: The Cybermen were at their best in the Second Doctor era. We also get a great villain in Tobias Vaughn, the introduction of UNIT, a terribly British military organisation set up to deal with alien menace, and Zoe blows up a computer with her brain. Until fairly recently, this was one of many stories which had missing episodes and thus couldn’t be watched in full – but an experimental project involving Cosgrove Hall (animators also responsible for Danger Mouse, Wind in the Willows and the Pratchett cartoons) replaced the missing visuals with some rather impressive black and white animation. Sadly it cost too much for them to do it again any time soon, but maybe some day…
Honourable Mention: The War Games (1969) – hands down one of the best Doctor Whos ever, iconic and brilliantly put together. The only reason I’m not recommending it as one of the top three to watch is because it’s ten episodes long, and regardless of how well it’s paced and performed, it’s TEN FREAKING EPISODES LONG. If you enjoy the other Troughtons, though, it’s worth the time investment.