Saturday, 22 May 2010
THE REGENERATION GAME (Round 2) - Of Clowns & Dandies
Right folks, it’s the start of another two parter this week, and as I’m sticking with my policy of not reviewing multi episode stories until they are complete, that can only mean one thing… Yes, it’s time for… THE REGENERATION GAME – Round Two
Now then, where were we? Ah, yes – in our attempt to catalogue the many faces of the Doctor, last time we had ascertained that the First Doctor’s era yields up three actors in the role and confusingly two incarnations (see Round One for details on that apparent paradox). So then, let's travel back to the dying moments of The Tenth Planet, and just imagine the the original viewers' shock and surprise when dear old William Hartnell’s features began to shift and blur, transforming into…
THE SECOND DOCTOR
Played by Patrick Troughton, the second incarnation of our favourite Time Lord was a younger man, though still no spring chicken. Now this Doctor is far more like his later versions – the slightly dotty sometimes grumpy grandfather figure has been replaced with an impish fellow whose clowning masks a ferocious intellect and a crusading morality.
The First Doctor was a very traditional sort of hero; a wise old man figure who wouldn’t be out of place next to Victorian heroes like Professor Challenger. But the Second Doctor, whether through accident or design, turned out to be cut from more contemporary cloth. With his Beatles moptop hair and scruffy clothes, Troughton’s Doctor would have blended in well with the beatniks and proto-hippies of 1966. And his delight in causing chaos for authority figures, his constant ribbing of the pompous and powerful, and his love of freedom show that this Doctor was reflecting the social revolutions that were in the air at the time as well as the clouds of pot smoke and incense.
And in the production office, change was also afoot; the Second Doctor’s era sees the show refine its core elements, bringing the format closer to the show as we now know it. The team dynamic the series started with has now receded, and the stories are firmly focused on the Doctor as the hero proper. The subgenre of historical stories comes to an end in Troughton’s early adventures with The Highlanders and monsters become the order of the day. Indeed it is in the three Troughton series, with their moody shadows and the establishment of the ‘base under siege’ trope, that Doctor Who first gained its reputation as a terrifyier of children; earning the repuation of being the show you watched from behind the sofa. And finally, it is during Troughton’s reign that the sonic screwdriver first makes an appearance.
And Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor has been equally influential; new boy Matt Smith cites the Second Doctor as a big influence on his conception of the role, and he's not the first. Indeed, Troughton would appear to be the actors’ favourite Doctor and it is easy to see why. His version of the Doctor masterfully blends together all the elements we have come to expect from our Time Lord hero – the eccentric humour, the warm heart, the scientific genius and the passionate righting of wrongs. It’s just a shame that many of his performances we can only hear now.
For those of you who don’t know, unfortunately many episodes of the First and Doctor’s stories are now missing, and probably lost forever. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, many programs in the BBC archives were wiped so the tapes could be reused, and to cut storage costs. Much was lost, and infamously among the culls were many episodes from early Doctor Who. In some cases, whole stories vanished and others were left missing a several parts.
Needless to say that many have seen this as terrible short-sightedness on the part of the BBC, but in fairness you have to remember that at the time, it was quite rare to programs to be repeated. I know that sounds astonishing now, but it is only in the early ’80s that repeating shows became common practice as a cheap means of filling airtime - previously programs were only usually repeated if they were remarkably popular. And it was only into the latter half of the ‘80s that the closely entwined trends of nostalgia and cult emerged as cultural forces.
Plus, back when they were wiping the tapes, no one had foreseen the rise of the home video recorder, let alone the future market of people buying their own copies of television shows and films. So as maddening as it is, we shouldn’t judge the BBC too harshly – yes, it was a horrendous mistake but at the time when the decisions were made they were not simply being stupid.
However, the BBC did retain complete recordings of all the audio track of all the episodes and numerous telesnaps - photos printed from the video. So at least we can listen to the missing adventures, which the BBC has released on CD with added narration, usually supplied by one of the cast, to fill in details the audio is missing. Also using the telesnaps and various publicity stills, fans have reconstructed missing episodes on video. For the DVD releases, the BBC has released a three disc set Lost in Time which collects together all remaining episodes of the missing stories plus any other surviving clips. And for the release of Cybermen classic The Invasion, the BBC hired Cosgrove Hall to create animated versions of that story’s missing two installments. It was an experiment which actually worked out very well but sadly doesn’t look likely to be repeated due to the expense *sigh*.
But enough of this lamenting Video Tapes Past and back to the Second Doctor. Interestingly, the term ‘regeneration’ is not used at any point in the switch over between Hartnell and Troughton. The new Doctor also doesn’t state that this is an ability of his people, he simply says it’s a process related to the TARDIS leaving us still rather in the dark. Remember at this stage, we don’t know he is a Time Lord and the script doesn’t deliver any rationale other than the change is somehow related to the Doctor being an alien. It’s only much later in the show’s history that the words ‘regeneration’ and ‘incarnation’ enter the lore.
On screen, the transforming process is dubbed ‘a renewal’, and this omission of the usual ‘r’ word has led to an interesting theory - as this isn’t called regeneration formally, perhaps this is not actually a new incarnation of the Doctor but a younger version of Hartnell. Yes, I know there are significant physical differences between the two men, but as the new Doctor is markedly more youthful, the audience of the day could well have interpreted the change as a rejuvenation rather than a metamorphosis. Remember that back then they wouldn’t necessarily expect two actors playing the same role at different ages to closely resemble each other as much has we do, mainly due to the huge advances in make-up between now and then.
Now it’s an intriguing notion that what we consider to be the Second Doctor is actually a younger version of the original, First Doctor 1.2 (or 1.3 counting Cushing)as it were. But in the light of what we now know, and more tellingly the interaction between the First and Second Doctors in the team-up stories of The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors it seems clear that this is not the case, despite what it may have looked like at the time.
As for the Doctor’s secrecy on the process, we can easily rationalise in the context of the character’s history. When we get to The War Games, Troughton’s finale, we finally learn something of his background. We discover he is a Time Lord, and more to the point he’s been on the run from them after ‘borrowing’ his TARDIS. Furthermore we discover that he began his travels to escape the boredom of Time Lord society and consequently when he feels he must contact them to sort out the temporal mess caused by the War Lords, he is put on trial for breaking their cardinal laws of not inferring in history or the affairs of other races.
Hence throughout his First and Second incarnations, he never even dares mention them because he is well aware of he is breaking these laws. Being almost omnipotent beings whose society revolves around observing and recording all time, you can see that it would be a big threat to the Doctor’s continued freedom if people throughout time and space were chattering about that funny Time Lord and his blue box who turned up and sorted everything out.
So naturally he wouldn’t explain his ability to regenerate for the same reasons. And also we can rationalise the fact that he gives his companions Ben and Polly no hint that he is going to regenerate as he isn’t sure himself he can while away from his home world. Hence his remark about the TARDIS being part of the process – and apparently it does play a significant part in the regeneration, as most Doctor’s on their last legs try to make it back to the console room, but more on this later.
Quick Theory Time - the First Doctor sported a blue stoned ring, which he valued highly and seemed to possess some mysterious powers. However the Second Doctor quickly ditches it without a second thought. So possibly, was the ring a reservoir of some kind of Time Lord power – either the artron energy that drives the TARDIS or the bio-energy released in the regeneration process? And so after the regeneration, the ring's reserves were completely depleted and therefore now worthless?
However the closing episodes of The War Games does clear up another element of the lore. They definitively reveal the origin of the TARIDS; contrary to the hints we recieved in the preceding six series, it turns out that he is not the inventor of the TARDIS, and in fact he *ahem* borrowed it. And so extending our line of logic a little further, it makes sense that in the past he has allowed his companions to believe he was its creator; no doubt partly so they don’t think they are travelling with a thief but mainly to avoid awkward questions about his background. (And to look behind the curtain for a moment, we should note that this story originally aired in 1969, a good three years after the last AARU big screen adaption hence in the films the Cushing Doctor is the inventor of his TARDIS.)
And all this caution and secrecy over his origins is more than justified when we consider the punishment for meddling in history the Time Lords mete out – he's stripped of his knowledge of time travel, exiled to Earth, and most seriously, forced to regenerate. Now when you remember that later stories introduced the rule that Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times, being forced to give up an incarnation prematurely is a very severe sentence.
However there is a certain fuzziness over the transformation from Troughton to Pertwee. Like The Tenth Planet, The War Games doesn’t refer to the process as regeneration. What actually happens is that when the Doctor protests being exiled to Earth, seemingly spouting the first objection that come to mind he complains that they can’t maroon him there as ‘people known me there’ and hence the Timelords rule that his appearance will be changed and there is actualy no mention of the 'r' word again.
Now from a production point of view, the Time Lords' sentence was a great device to allow the lead actor to be changed once more. But it is interesting to note that even at this stage the show’s mythology still hadn’t developed the concept of regeneration as we know it; while The Tenth Planet establishes that the Doctor can regenerate but there’s no hint that he can do this more than once. It is surprising though that when Troughton announced he wanted to leave the role, the production team didn’t leap to the logic assumption and just having him mortally injured and regenerate a second time.
Now while we could assume that the script writers simply didn't want to pull the same trick twice, we must also consider why The War Games introduces us to the Time Lords in the first place. At this handover of the sonic screwdriver, they weren’t just replacing the Doctor but essentially doing a soft reboot of the series as a whole. And the Time Lords’ sentence is the plot mechanism not just to recast the lead role but to explain the coming changes in the format…
THE THIRD DOCTOR
While the move into the Troughton era saw Doctor Who gradually developing the show’s templates, going into the Pertwee years saw the show practically regenerating like the Doctor himself. Firstly when Who returned in 1970 it was now in colour but there were further changes were in the format and style of the show. The Doctor was now earthbound, and bar the occasional off world adventure (usually a mission from the Time Lords or the Doctor briefly getting his TARDIS to work), was fending off various sci-fi threats to the world. Now working for UNIT as their scientific advisor, the show absorbed many of the tropes of the late 60s/early ‘70s spy boom, and consequently the Pertwee era closely resemebles the ITC action serials of the day.
The Doctor gains a new arch enemy, one that is a criminal mastermind rather an another aggressive alien race, the Master and it is here that the sonic screwdriver really comes into its own. During the Troughton years, it was becoming an iconic prop associated with the character like Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass, but in the Pertwee era it became the all singing, all dancing gadget du jour, acquiring a extra functions as and when the script required (though without ever turning into the magic wand of RTD new Who).
While still very much the same eccentric scientist, the Third Doctor also boasted a raft of new skills for the changing times and milieu. The Doctor has become a dashing man of action; the closest the character as ever got to being a two-fisted tough guy. This Doctor is handy in fight, karate chopping bad guys left, right and centre thanks to his Venusian Aikido and rather being chased down corridors he’s far more likely to be jumping onto the nearest vehicle and doing some hot pursuit of his own. Hence in this period, the show acquired its own dedicated stunt team – ‘Action by HAVOC’ as the credits proudly proclaimed.
The Third Doctor’s outfits see him more in sync with the heroes of the day too; he’s as sharp as dresser as Steed from The Avengers, Number 6 from The Prisoner and Jason King from Department S. But also his wardrobe reflects the groovy threads of the times, the frock coats and capes mirroring the Victorian and Edwardian fashions popularised by Swinging London emporiums like Granny Takes a Trip. Indeed The Third Doctor is one of the only two men on the planet who can look good in a ruffle fronted shirt – and the other is Jimi Hendrix.
Weirdly though, the Third Doctor’s hip dress sense was entirely accidental. When Jon Pertwee landed the role, some publicity shoots for the Radio Times were organised. At the first Pertwee was wearing an ordinary suit (click here to see a pic from this shoot) and had him arsing about with a Yeti, but for the second he raided the family dressing box (the Pertwees had had show biz in the blood for several generations) and assembled the now familiar frock coat, frilly shirt and cape ensemble. Now, Pertwee himself expected a slapped wrist from the production office for posing for the press in such ridiculous garb, but they actually loved it and it helped the writers shape the new incarnation’s character as a gentlemen adventurer.
This Doctor was also more forthright in character as well as action. For example, now he has no qualms about revealing his alien nature, indeed where once he never dared to breathe a word about the Time Lords now he rarely shuts up about them. Presumably now the Time Lords know where he is there is no need for the tight lipped approach of his previous incarnations. Admittedly when he speaks of them now, it’s usually to complain about them taking away his powers to travel time and space but there is also a shift in his attitudes; now he openly declares himself to belong to that race of ‘galactic ticket inspectors’ and is very quick to flaunt his advanced alien nature to the earthlings. Whereas the Second Doctor was happy to play the clown in order to disguise the fact that he was the smartest guy in the room, the Third will leave you in doubt about his vast intellect and superior knowledge.
And the Doctor is now more biologically alien too – it is in his first outing (Spearhead From Space) that we first learn that Time Lords possess two hearts. And this little titbit of lore does cause a bit of a continuity problem as previously the First was subject to medical examinations that didn’t turn up an unexpected second heart. Fan speculation has suggested that Time Lords gain a second heart during their first regeneration, but as the Second was also been subject to doctor’s tests which also didn’t reveal anything non-human in his physiognomy, this cannot be the case.
Now the best explanation for this anomaly I’ve found comes from the excellent About Time series of episode guides by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles – which I heartily endorse tracking down if you are enjoying these rambles on the show. In Volume 2, which covers the Second Doctor’s era, there is an essay which explores this conundrum and the learned gentlemen conclude that logically the Doctor gets his second heart in the post-trial forced regeneration. Furthermore they theorise from what is said in later stories that all Time Lords are in fact born with two hearts and the Doctor’s atrophied and/or stopped working when he fled Gallifrey. The basis for this coming from material in the novel ranges that suggest that a Time Lord’s second heart serves as a link to their home world, and so the second heart stopped functioning when he fled Gallifrey in the same way that his telepathic link with the Time Lords was severed (as mentioned in the Tom Baker story The Invisible Enemy). Hence it is only after he is reunited with his people and the second heart has been renewed that we get to hear about it.
Now while still on the continuity tip, the Third Doctor’s run introduces some other key elements. Although we had met the Time Lords in The War Games and heard much about them from the Third Doctor, it is not until his last series, in The Time Warrior, that we actually learn their planet is called Gallifrey - which is somewhat unusual as we’d had a return trip to the Time Lord’s home world in the previous season’s The Three Doctors.
However the really major additions to the lore come in Pertwee’s swansong Planet of the Spiders. For it is here that we finally get a change of Doctors that is clearly and explicitly labelled regeneration – thank Rassilion! It’s incredible really that it took the show a whopping ELEVEN series to get here. However even here, although the script tels us that regeneration is one of the extraordinary abilities of the Time Lords, it isn't clear whether this is a natural ability or a proces they have created as the dying Third Doctor needs the psychic help of his fellow Time Lord (and former mentor) Kanpo to get the cooking started.
So then regarding the questions we started this series of articles with - the number of Doctors who have appeared on screen and how many actors have played him – these next two television Doctors are fairly clear cut compared the multiple bodied First. Arguably you could claim that there is another actor in the Pertwee role, as being the man of action he often was being played by a stunt double, usually Terry Walsh of Havoc. However stunt doubles don’t really count in my book.
So let’s have a look at the scores on the doors…
So far we have 4 versions of the Doctor, comprising of 3 incarnations and one alternate universe Doc, and are now up to a whopping 5 actors in the role.
Next time on THE REGENERATION GAME - What do you mean? Hartnell wasn't the first?!?
Didn't he do well!