A new production team, a new TARDIS team, everything old is new again! Tom Baker’s Doctor is still seen as the definitive take on the character, and 1975 was the beginning of a swell of mainstream recognition for the show such as had not been seen since the Dalekmania days a decade earlier. It’s telling that to many casual viewers and non viewers, “the one with the scarf” is the Doctor they remember.
Tom Baker strode into the role like he had been born to play it, bringing a wave of genuine eccentricity which only added to the idea that the Doctor was an alien, favourite uncle and naughty schoolboy all rolled into one.
It’s hardly surprising that many fans remember a story from 1975 as the start of their devotion – not only were some of the best stories of all time screened in this year, but viewers were treated to nearly two whole seasons of Doctor Who.
First, five linked stories that are all firmly science fictional in Season 12, featuring giant robots, space stations (okay the same space station twice), Cybermen, Sontarans and Daleks.
Then, after only a three and a half month break, Season 13 began, with four of its six serials screening before the end of the year. The ‘gothic horror’ tone associated with this production team was beginning to creep in during this later block, notably in the story Pyramids of Mars, though there were still plenty of aliens and robots. The *most* gothicky stories of this season (Brain of Morbius and Seeds of Doom, which cover almost all the traditional horror tropes between them) would not screen until early 1976.
Looking at 1975 as a body of Doctor Who, it’s clear that they were going for a harder combination of science fiction than had been seen before, and already starting to play with the horror toolbox. The format of the show was shaken up too – the TARDIS was brushed aside as the Doctor’s primary mode of transport for a good chunk of Season 12 in favour of a Time Ring, and the Time Lords began to take a far greater interest in what the Doctor could do for them.
Joining Sarah (the ‘Jane’ in her name seemed to fall away to make room in the TARDIS) was Harry Sullivan, a young and easily-embarrassed medical Doctor who added a great deal of gentlemanly slapstick to the proceedings, and whose old fashioned style and turn of phrase made a splendid contrast to Sarah’s more modern attitudes.
Much is often made of Harry being a ‘return’ to the old black and white days (a whole five years ago!) in which the older Doctors were accompanied by younger ‘action men’ to do the heavy lifting and other Heroic Bloke action. It’s been said that they were planning to cast a less-fit-than-Pertwee older Doctor again, and that Harry was written in to allow for that.
I’m not convinced that this was an especially different change, though. I still have trouble classifying the Brig, Benton and Yates as male ‘companions’ of the Doctor – like many others, my views on this were shaped at an impressionable age by a bunch of Peter Haining reference books in the 1980’s – but there’s no denying that the Doctor had recurring male regulars in the ensemble around him through the Third Doctor years (only 10 of Sarah Jane’s 26 episodes with Pertwee did not feature UNIT, and only one of Jo’s three seasons as companion had the ‘away’ serials outnumbering the ‘home’ ones).
A male companion offers a lot more than a conveniently violent pair of fists, though Doctor Who never did much to capitalise on the romantic possibilities of having a young male companion alongside a female one – apart from the vaguely tragic romance of Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield. Harry Sullivan in fact hardly has to be explained at all – he wasn’t unusual in the traditions of the show thus far, but certainly was in comparison with what was to follow. After Harry left in early Season 13, the Fourth Doctor continued with only a female companion (and occasional robot dog) for the majority of his seven year run.
I’d suggest that the brushing aside of the relevance of a male companion had little to do with scriptwriters or even the heroic qualities of the leading man – what it comes down to is that for some reason, the concept of the Doctor and his companion as male and female leads, needing no one else, has become the iconic image of what Doctor Who looks like in the eyes of the public and the media. The mini-skirted women of the Pertwee era (and the reduction of the role of the male regulars) helped this idea along a lot, but it was the the late 1975 stories with Sarah and the Fourth Doctor striking off on their own that really began to forge this image.
UNIT themselves feature in three stories during 1975, punctuating the more space-ey adventures, and reminding us of the format that was the standard only a year previously.
Robot, often dismissed by fans as a leftover Pertwee story with the wrong Doctor in it, serves to introduce the Fourth Doctor marvellously as a fish-out-of-water, and to shake up the preconceptions of Sarah and the Brigadier as well as the audience about what exactly the Doctor is likely to do in a given situation.
It’s not accidental that this story pokes at our expectations, and that the series regulars get to show over a series of reactions that this Doctor is a new man that they don’t entirely know or trust. I particularly like the fact that Sarah moves on without the Doctor in this story, getting on with her life and journalistic career during his post-regenerative coma, but also distancing herself from him once he is awake and acting like a lunatic. He’s not her Doctor any more, after all – he’s a stranger, and for the first time a companion gets to deal with this on her home turf.
When Sarah leaves with the Doctor at the end of the story, it’s a new choice all over again – and that choice is to have an adventure, not to sign up for years and years (as ends up being the case). Likewise, when Sarah, Harry and the Doctor meet up with the Brigadier and UNIT again in Terror of the Zygons (at the beginning of Season 13), Harry has learned a lesson and refuses to step back into the TARDIS. Like Ian and Barbara, he figures this might be his only chance to jump ship.
Sarah agrees to go with the Doctor one last time (heh) but only on condition that they go straight back to London – something that the Third Doctor would have managed after perhaps only one or two wrong turns. The Fourth, however, takes this as a license to show her the universe all over again…
Ah, Sarah. You keep saying no and then going back one more time.
The final story of 1975, The Android Invasion, is one of my favourites – sadly it doesn’t quite work as the farewell to UNIT that it could have been if Nicholas Courtney had been available (the Brigadier instead is mysteriously ‘in Geneva’, a tradition that certainly had its uses over the years) but we do get a swan song for Benton and Harry, even if they aren’t quite as Sarah remembers them.
The Android Invasion is a greatly underrated story, which gives Sarah some meaty material and the Fourth Doctor some of his most quotable lines – is it unfair to note that Terry Nation did some of his best writing when script edited by Robert Holmes? The unsettling effect of an English village in which everything is quaint and detailed but ever so slightly wrong comes across very well, but more to the point, it shows that the Doctor and Sarah can take on a story like this in their own style and that UNIT are (sadly) not needed any more.
Also this story gave us Tom Baker saying the word ‘ginger beer.’ Your argument is invalid.
Robot and Terror of the Zygons showed that the Fourth Doctor was a lot more unpredictable and less of a cozy team player than his predecessor – but it is The Android Invasion that draws a line under UNIT once and for all as something that belongs in the Doctor’s past.
By the end of 1975, despite Sarah making the occasional complaint and protest about never getting home, she is firmly installed as a TARDIS resident rather than visitor (including, as we would eventually learn, her own potplants and soft toys). Harry has had his adventures and firmly waved goodbye to them both. Doctor Who as a show now enters a whole new phase – one which would prove the most memorable of the entire Classic series. No pressure or anything!
ELSEWHERE IN 1975:
4th Doctor Tom Baker art [Springfield Punx]
Fourth Doctor art [Marlow Inc]
Born to be Alien [Tor.com]
Retro View: Robot [NeoWhovian]
Bumbling But Well Meaning: Harry Sullivan art [Marlow Inc]
Genesis of the Daleks [Mindless Ones]
Genesis of the Daleks [Classic Who Conversations]
Terror of the Zygons [the Angriest]
The Android Invasion [the Independent]
Pub Kraal [NeoWhovian]