Running With The Doctor
The Second Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Running with the Doctor is an occasional feature in which we will explore each iteration of Doctor Who’s titular Time Lord, the way he approaches the universe, the companions he travels with, and the way the show developed while he was its face.
“There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.”-The Doctor (Patrick Troughton)
The Doctor: The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)
Stories: 21 (119 episodes)
Series: 4-6 (1966-1969)
Companions: Polly, Ben Jackson, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield, Zoe Heriot
On Christmas Day, the Eleventh Doctor took his final bow. He was, in some sense, my Doctor, the one I fell in love with instantly, the one that made me appreciate the character, and the show, on a deeper level. Everyone has their Doctor, and every Doctor has their partisans. This is part of what makes Doctor Who a magical television phenomenon that somehow transcends quality and belies traditional attempts at criticism. Doctor Who attacks adherents in a pop-culture lizard brain; it seeps its way under their skins slowly but surely, until it becomes a necessary part of your television diet, and then, a part of your larger life.
I wasn’t even sure I liked the show when I first started watching it, and even in its current, just concluded era, it is a deeply flawed program. It didn’t make my list of the best television shows of 2013, and honestly, it would have to be leagues better than it was this year to even merit consideration in the future. But that doesn’t matter. Rankings, awards, quality itself somehow becomes irrelevant once you become a true Whovian. The show exists on a different plane, one where you get to break free and run with The Doctor.
What’s fascinating about the show in a larger sense to me is not that everyone has their Doctor, nor that every Doctor has his fans. What I find incredible is that, at some point, I fall for each and every Doctor I come into contact with. As of this writing, I have seen the full tenure of five (The First, The Second, The Ninth, The Tenth, and The Eleventh), and I have loved each of them as I watched them run. One of the things that makes the show special is the way it allows you to connect with each of its lead actors in turn, lets them take center stage and walk off with your heart and your imagination.
Last time, we discussed The First Doctor’s tenure and laid out the ground rules for what this feature hopes to accomplish. Again, there is a lot of great criticism out there surrounding the classic run of Doctor Who (I continue to use Philip Sandifer’s excellent blog as my personal companion through the series), and this isn’t that, not really. Running with The Doctor aims to be something more informal and off the cuff, a short space for me to sound off on each era of the show as I conclude it, to think as I go about the show as a whole, and about how each individual era fits into the larger picture. I want to talk about each Doctor. I want to talk about the era of the show that Doctor represents. I want to talk about the good, the bad, and the weird. And yes, occasionally, I hope to discuss what it all means in a larger sense. Mostly, thought, I want this feature to exist as a quick rundown for the curious about what each era of the show is like, and what they can expect to find should they decide to take a run with any particular Doctor. Consider this a primer on each era of the show through my own personal lens, a chance to get a feel for what it was like when each Doctor stood at the TARDIS console and fumbled his way across time and space.
Before we dive into our four sections (as a reminder, they will cover The Doctor himself, his companions, additions to the show’s mythology during this era, and the “essential” stories featuring this Doctor, respectively), there’s something important to discuss. I mentioned above that one of the great things about Doctor Who is the way you come to love each Doctor in a specific way, for who he is. Sometimes it happens instantly, like it did for me when Matt Smith strode out of the TARDIS and into the life of little Amelia Pond. Sometimes, it takes a while (I will freely admit to distrusting David Tennant for longer than many, such was my loyalty to my first Doctor, The Ninth). For me, it took some time to truly love The Second Doctor, even if I appreciated the difficult position he was put in. I think this is true for two reasons.
First, because Patrick Troughton was the first regeneration, the show itself didn’t know exactly what that meant, nor how to handle it. It was clear from the beginning things had changed, but how and for how long didn’t become immediately obvious. Second, and more importantly, Troughton is hard to love because so much of Doctor Who is missing. For those who aren’t immediately aware of what I mean, a brief primer: due to the incredible short-sightedness of the BBC, many episodes from the show’s first six seasons were “junked” (that is, literally taped over) by the network. Though many have been recovered (and in fact, two stories from Troughton’s era were recovered earlier this year, as I was working my way through the era), 97 episodes are still missing, leaving 26 serials incomplete. Fifty-three of those episodes are from The Second Doctor’s tenure, leaving virtually all of his first season, large swaths of his second, and even a chunk of his third and final year literally unwatchable. In place of the episodes are “reconstructions” that combine publicity stills with the original audio tracks. I watched all of these reconstructions, which vary in their effectiveness, and which nearly always make it harder to evaluate the actual quality of the stories. Because of this, it took me until about halfway through Troughton’s run to really see what he was doing, and we will talk about that in the next section.
Finally, before we get to our standard examinations, I should briefly discuss what The Second Doctor era is most known for: the base-under-siege story. A large swath of Troughton’s stories fall into this category, which can basically be summed up as follows: The Doctor and his companions arrive at a facility which is under attack by some extra-terrestrial force, stop the attack, and run away again. The format becomes such a cliché, several stories feel like they are literally slotting in [location] and [monster] like a mad lib. Sometimes it works better than others, and sometimes the show critiques the format in interesting ways, but for better or worse, that is what the Troughton era will always be known for.
The Madman with a Box:
When we discussed The First Doctor, I argued that everything The Doctor was or ever would be was present within his run. While I stand by that, I now think it was Patrick Troughton who formed the template for how everyone who followed would approach the role (Matt Smith even specifically modeled his performance on The Second Doctor). If Hartnell is remembered as “the grumpy one,” Troughton is known as “the cosmic hobo” bouncing around the universe with an impish grin, falling into trouble, and awkwardly extricating himself as soon as the problem is resolved (while River Song has made much of The Doctor not liking endings during Eleven’s era, this habit clearly stems from The Second Doctor, who tends to wave his hands and run back to the TARDIS as soon as he has defeated whatever monster has been causing problems).
The Second Doctor retains the awe of discovery his predecessor eventually learned, but he adds to it a childlike sense of wonder that is downright infectious. Much of Troughton’s performance is physical, which means he is more difficult to fully appreciate when watching reconstructions. The moment I shifted from appreciation of his work to love of The Second Doctor (that magic moment I discussed above that, for me to date, has occurred with every Doctor) came in a story that was just rediscovered this year, “The Enemy of The World,” when The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS to find himself on a beach and, with a smile, runs into the surf, tearing off his clothes to go for a swim:
The Second Doctor is just as clever as his predecessor, and while he doesn’t lack arrogance, he is more willing to play the fool in order to ensure his enemies underestimate him. He is a schemer and a manipulator of the first order, willing to lie to his friends and play a villain in order to get the upper hand. The Second Doctor is also prone to panic and bluster when things seem to be out of control, though unlike The First Doctor, he is always a hero with a strong moral compass. He is a figure for social justice at every turn, even when it disadvantages him or puts him in danger.
Another reason The Second Doctor gets a wrap as “the cosmic hobo” is his (and the show’s) close ties with the psychedelic movement of the late ‘60s. He is a bit of a space cadet, an aloof genius whose mind works in spasmodic cycles. He is a champion of the oppressed and the downtrodden, but usually committed to nonviolence and talking through the problem. He also has the constant feel of a spiritual seeker, a man searching the universe for something more. The Second Doctor isn’t just the one you would most want to get high with if the opportunity arose, he feels incredibly in tune with the time and the social movements that were occurring in the real world while he was on the television. His era is occasionally trippy, but even when it is grounded, it feels connected to a movement of love, discovery, and experimentation. Beyond that, The Second Doctor has a deeply ingrained suspicion of authority. He is an anarchist of the first order, an expert at tearing down systems that becomes befuddled if confronted with the challenge of rebuilding.
Ultimately, The Second Doctor embodies both the best and the worst of the psychedelic movement, serving as an excellent critic of the systems that movement opposed, while also finally sharing the flaws that doomed the social revolution to failure. He knows the questions to ask, he sees the problems in the system, and he wants to tear the whole thing down. But when it comes to developing ideas for how to rebuild, well, there’s probably another system elsewhere The Doctor can find to dismantle.
Born to Run:
When we met Ben and Polly at the end of The First Doctor’s tenure, I promised we would discuss them further this time around, when I was sure there would be more to say. I was wrong. Though they travel with The Second Doctor for six stories, they never really develop beyond their initial (rather flat) characterizations. Their most important role is to serve as the companions who bridge the gap between Hartnell and Troughton, and who convince the audience by being convinced themselves that this totally different person standing in front of them is somehow the same man. They do that fairly well, in a story that is sadly completely missing (but seems pretty fantastic), but afterwards, they are largely counting time, especially since The Doctor meets a more than adequate replacement for Ben in just his second story.
That replacement is Jamie McCrimmon, a Scottish highlander from the Eighteenth Century who becomes the longest serving companion in the history of Doctor Who. This era aired at the same time Adam West’s Batman was a hit across the pond, and Jamie very much becomes the Robin to The Second Doctor’s Batman. The two develop an amazing comedic repartee, and become more like buddy cops traveling through time and space than any other pairing in the series so far. Jamie can be a bit thick (and the show mines a lot of humor from this), but he is brave, fiercely loyal, and serves as a conscience and a confidant to The Doctor throughout his tenure. The Doctor clearly has something for Scots—along with Jamie, the longest serving companion in the revival has been Amy Pond—but Jamie becomes more than just a traveling companion for The Doctor; he becomes his best friend.
Victoria Waterfield gets the closest thing to an arc we see for a companion during this tenure. She joins The Doctor after she is orphaned in “The Evil of The Daleks,” and actually speaks about her grief at losing her father and her homeland multiple times thereafter. She also gets the most realistic reason for leaving the TARDIS we’ve yet seen—after being traumatized, attacked by monsters, and captured for six stories, she tells The Doctor she simply can’t handle the stress and decides to stay behind with a new surrogate family. Though Victoria seemingly has an arc, she spends most of her tenure screaming at various monsters and getting captured—only occasionally do her Victorian values show through and rarely is she anything more than an object to be captured and then repossessed by The Doctor and Jamie, who is her sometimes love interest, sometimes brother figure (as always during the classic series, any romance between the two is strictly subtext).
Finally, there is Zoe Heriot, the best companion the show comes up with in The Second Doctor’s era. An astrophysicist employed as basically a human computer on a space station in the mid-21st century, Zoe tires of reciting facts and figures and being relied on for conjecture, and stows away onboard the TARDIS to see the Universe. Zoe is an out and out genius whose intellect rivals that of The Doctor, and the two are occasionally competitive in this regard. Zoe also bounces off of Jamie well, serving as a sometimes scold who comes to care deeply for her markedly less intelligent companion.
The best the core cast of the show gets during this era is when The Doctor is joined by Jamie and Zoe. The three develop camaraderie unlike any we’ve seen before, and each pairing has an actual relationship that feels authentic and lived in. This is when the show started to feel like an ensemble again, in a way it hadn’t since the classic TARDIS team of The First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki.
Time Being Written:
The most important bit of continuity established during The Second Doctor’s tenure actually doesn’t emerge until his final story, the 10-part epic “The War Games.” And even then, it is mostly confined to the last episode of that story. That is when The Doctor’s people, The Time Lords, are officially introduced. The name has not been uttered before “The War Games,” and members of the species (outside of The Doctor and other renegades, like The Meddling Monk and the War Chief, who we also meet in “The War Games”) aren’t glimpsed until that final episode. Still, The Time Lords become such a phenomenally important part of the series going forward, their introduction may count as the most significant piece of mythology in The Second Doctor era.
Though the Cybermen were introduced in The First Doctor’s final story, “The Tenth Planet,” they truly take their place as The Doctor’s secondary nemesis and heir apparent to the Daleks’ spot at the top in The Second Doctor’s tenure. He faces them four times, and they become more established as the soulless killing machines we know today under his tenure.
In addition to the ascension of the Cybermen, two iconic Who adversaries are introduced here: The Ice Warriors and The Great Intelligence. Both were re-introduced to the series this year, and both faced The Second Doctor twice during his tenure. The Ice Warriors, lizard people from Mars looking to colonize a new home, were little more than intriguing thugs here, yet to evolve into the dignified antagonists they would eventually become. Yet the Great Intelligence is actually more interesting here than in Moffat’s retcon. Where in the modern series The Great Intelligence is born of a young boy’s loneliness, in its initial format it was more a Lovecraftian abstraction, a consciousness from “beyond the stars” that spoke in a raspy whisper and piloted robot Yeti for transportation (it is both cooler than and as ridiculous as it sounds).
Finally, two things that will become incredibly important to the series in the future are introduced. The first, the sonic screwdriver, exists here less as a cure-all and more as an actual screwdriver. Though once it helps The Doctor burrow through a wall, on every other occasion it is used in this era, it actually unscrews. Imagine that. The second is less a thing than a future companion of The Doctor’s who I will likely have a lot to say about next time around: Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who we meet as a Colonel and then again in his position at the head of UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. He appears in only two serials here, but the second, “The Invasion,” serves as a sort of backdoor pilot for the concept the series would adopt in The Third Doctor era, where he will be a regular companion.
Fantastic! Brilliant! Geronimo!:
If you’re looking to watch the essential stories from this era, I will weigh in on which are worth your time, and why you should watch them. These are not the best episodes (though I will include those in this list as well), and in fact, a few of them are pretty bad. But they are the episodes that are the most interesting, important, and essential from the era:
“The Power of The Daleks”—The Second Doctor’s first story, and thus, the first post-regeneration story of all time, “The Power of The Daleks” doesn’t so much establish who this Doctor is as punt on that question, making him a mystery Ben and Polly must solve. He is a question mark at the center of the show, and thus, actually, not even the center of his own debut story, much of which he spends playing the recorder and acting aloof. Yet this is one of the best Dalek stories the show has yet done, in which The Daleks pretend to be servants to a human colony (their metallic cries of “I am your servant” are the clear inspiration to the similar “I am your soldier” refrain in The Eleventh Doctor story “The Victory of The Daleks,” yet it is far more chilling here) in order to create a new line of Daleks. Though it is completely missing, it remains shockingly compelling even in reconstruction form.
“The Highlanders”—The last traditional historical the show produced, “The Highlanders,” is also the introduction of Jamie McCrimmon. Though it is incredibly important for both of those reasons, it is a fairly boring and completely missing story.
“The Evil of The Daleks”—The second and final Dalek story of the era, and actually constructed to be the final Dalek story ever, “The Evil of The Daleks” is another incredibly strong Dalek story. This one finds the genocidal mutants attempting to synthesize “The Human Factor,” that quality which differentiates them from us, in an attempt to then also isolate its opposite, “The Dalek Factor,” which they can use to turn others into hate-machines like themselves. The story is weirdly alchemical, slightly steampunk with its setting in Victorian London, and contains one of the most deeply discordant sequences of the era, in which Daleks injected with the Human Factor attempt to play a game with The Doctor, spinning in circles and chanting “dizzy Dalek.” What I wouldn’t give for this story to exist in full (only one of the seven episodes survives, and it does not include that famous sequence).
“The Tomb of The Cybermen”—this is the first Troughton story to exist in full, and is somewhat legendary in status. The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie land on the planet Telos, where they are drawn into an archeological expedition into the titular structure. Though expectations may have played a role, I found this episode deeply disappointing—uncreative, lacking in suspense, and honestly, pretty racist. That being said, it does have an excellent scene between The Doctor and Victoria, where the two discuss death, loss, and memory.
“The Abominable Snowmen”—The introduction of The Great Intelligence is deeply spooky, atmospheric stuff, and though the story is almost entirely missing, it retains much of that power. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria stumble into a Buddhist temple in Tibet that is being plagued by visits from the mythical Yeti. Something is also challenging the faiths of the monks from within the temple, and the two challenges are more closely tied than is initially apparent. “The Abominable Snowmen” creates a villain in The Great Intelligence that is deeply unsettling, and also plays around with the connections between Buddhism and the psychedelic movement, and the way the latter may covertly corrupt the former.
“The Ice Warriors”—The introduction of the titular villains finds The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie stumbling into Britain in the midst of a second Ice Age, where an Ice Warrior is discovered within an encroaching glacier and begins a plot to awaken his comrades and repower their ship.
“The Enemy of The World”—rediscovered just this fall, this is one of the all-time great stories from this era. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria find themselves on Earth in the early 21st century, where the nefarious Salamander (played by Troughton in a dual role) is attempting to seize control of the globe with a combination of political acumen and a mysterious ability to predict natural disasters. The Doctor looks exactly like Salamander, presenting the resistance with an opportunity to topple the nascent dictator.
“The Web of Fear”—a straight up sequel to “The Abominable Snowmen” finds The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe ensnared in a trap by The Great Intelligence forty years after their first meeting. They are assisted by a much older version of Professor Travers, who they met at that temple, and who becomes the first recurring character in the series. The Intelligence has taken over the London Underground with his army of robotic yeti, and only with the help of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart (introduced here) can The Doctor hope to save the city.
“The Mind Robber”—another all-time classic finds The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe pulled out of our universe and into the Land of Fiction, where they confront fictional characters like Gulliver and Rapunzel, and where The Doctor is asked to take over as The Master of Fiction. The most psychedelic story of the psychedelic era, “The Mind Robber” is also a meta-textual examination of the nature of fiction, the line between reality and unreality, and the very core of Doctor Who itself. Months before The Time Lords were revealed, the story heavily implies that The Doctor is in fact a renegade fugitive from The Land of Fiction who escaped unreality to run free in the real world and who must return to become The Master of Fiction, writing stories the way he usually rewrites history. The serial never makes it clear that The Doctor and his friends escape the land of fiction. But then, how could they?
“The Invasion”—The eight part Cybermen epic serves as a backdoor pilot for the era to come, as The Doctor works alongside unit to repel an invasion. While the episode is overly padded and is more a story about the villainous Tobias Vaughn than the Cybermen he allies himself with, it is worthwhile if only as a taste for the show to come.
“The Seeds of Death”—the second Ice Warriors story of the era is a quietly elegiac tale, mourning the death of the rocket ship and space exploration months before the moon landing even occurred. The Ice Warriors invasion attempt is pretty standard fare, but the episode’s subtly perceptive view of a society that has outgrown the wonder of space travel to its detriment is incredibly poignant and relevant to us now.
“The War Games”—the second longest story Doctor Who ever did is the 10-part epic that serves as Troughton’s swan song. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land in what appears to be World War I, and are immediately caught up in the sort of militaristic bureaucracy The Doctor has opposed throughout Troughton’s tenure, a mechanistic system that chews people up and uses them as cannon fodder in conflicts they don’t even understand. The metaphor becomes even more resonant when it is revealed that, in fact, the TARDIS crew has arrived on an alien planet where human soldiers from various time periods are battling each other for a chance to serve in an army aimed at Galactic conquest. “The War Games” serves as a sort of greatest hits for The Second Doctor era, but it criticizes that era at every turn. Throughout the story, The Doctor runs away from the human cost of the conflict, off to fight the next monster. There is a base-under-siege here, but The Doctor is the monster struggling to get in. He succeeds in tearing down the system only to realize he is incapable of building anything in its place. The Doctor fails, and is forced to call in The Time Lords to clean up what he cannot. We finally meet The Doctor’s people and learn why he ran away in the first place, and our hero is exiled to Earth and forced to regenerate.
Next time on Running with The Doctor:
We look at Jon Pertwee’s run as The Third Doctor, which sees our favorite Time Lord exiled on Earth and working as scientific consultant to UNIT.