Saturday, 19 June 2010

THE REGENERATION GAME (Round 3) - Bohemian Cricket!

Nice to see Who, to see Who nice!

This round of the Regeneration Game is going to split into two parts – mainly due to the fact that the Tom Baker era covers a lot of ground. Fans of the Fifth Doctor don’t despair! Part II will be along in the next couple of days…


In December 1974, the public were introduced to a brand new Doctor, Tom Baker. And Baker would stay the role until 1980; by far the longest serving Time Lord in the TARDIS, and for many the Fourth Doctor is the incarnation that first springs to mind when Doctor Who is mentioned. The Fourth Doctor has proved to be enduringly popular, with the Baker Man still regularly topping fan polls for favourite Doctor, and it is only recently he had any serious competition thanks to the immense appeal of David Tennant.

However, back in ’74, the general reaction wasn’t one of instant love. As I recalled in my review of The Eleventh Hour, a common response to the new Doctor was that he was too young. And additionally, initially many felt that his behaviour was far too silly and the costume, in particular the long scarf and floppy hat, that are now so iconic, made our Time Lord hero look a berk.

Now to contextualise this reaction, you have to remember that in the previous year, The Three Doctors had been broadcast and for many younger viewers this was their first exposure to the fact that there had been other Doctors before the white haired chap in the smoking jacket we enjoyed so much on a Saturday tea-time between Basil Brush and The Generation Game.

And we were hungry to learn more. Fortunately for us, a few months later the Radio Times published a Doctor Who special to celebrate tenth anniversary of the show. This magazine format tome was the first fandom bible, containing interviews with key cast and crew members from down the years, a Terry Nation short story, and even blueprints for building your very own Dalek. But the bulk of the page count was an episode guide, detailing every serial of all ten seasons to date. Now we had the full history of our hero’s adventures and very quickly playgrounds across the land were full of self-styled experts.

Now if we look at the marvellous stills from the Three Doctors and this hallowed volume which show all three incarnations together (here's one), you can begin to understand the mixed reception the Fourth Doctor received. Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee are all of a comparable age and share a similarly Edwardian look; Hartnell may appear staid and stolid in his dress sense, Troughton scruffy and Pertwee dandified but their wardrobe is rooted in the same basic style. Hence Baker’s age and his outfit, inspired by a Toulouse Lautrec poster incidentally, seemed a very radical break with tradition at the time. Equally after the dashing but patriarchal scientist of Pertwee, Baker’s anarchic antics and clowning was something of a shock to the system.

However his first season saw the return of the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Sontarans, introduced an iconic new villain Davros, and delved into proto Alien sci-fi body horror territory with the Wirrn in The Ark in Space; a feast of horrors to test the mettle of any Doctor, and Baker quickly proved his worth. With Phillip Hinchcliffe in the producer’s chair and Robert Holmes in charge of scripts, this new series of Doctor Who was almost another soft reboot. In the wake of the energy crisis, British government teetering close to collapse, and Watergate and Vietnam across the pond, it no longer seemed appropriate for a television hero to be in the pocket of the powers that be and working for the military. And so the cosy UNIT set up was quickly phased out. After Baker's debut story Robot, the show returned to travelling in time and among the stars; no more would England be invaded by any passing intergalactic chancers every other month; the days of tea and biscuits with the Brig and Benton were over.

With Hinchcliffe and Holmes at the reins, the new stories were pitched at an older audience. Although the Pertwee days had delivered many frightening moments and memorable monsters, the Holmes/Hinchcliffe union brought harder story lines, packed with darkness and violence. In contrast the pop art psychedelic action sci-fi backdrop of the Third Doctor’s adventures, the first three seasons of Baker’s run saw the Fourth Doctor roaming a gothic universe, with stories like The Brain of Morbius and The Pyramids of Mars riffing on horror classics. And in this milieu, the anarchic quips and general Tom-foolery fitted in perfectly; the monsters and villains may have had us behind the sofa but you knew the Fourth Doctor would be offering them jelly babies in the next scene.

But there was more to Tom Baker’s Doctor than just tripping over his own scarf; the Fourth incarnation of our favourite Time Lord also showed himself to possess the same scientific brilliance and moral vigour of his predecessors. He may have used his wit to prick the pomposity of his adversaries (sample quote - “That’s the empty rhetoric of a defeated dictator… And I don’t like your face either!”), but he was also given to fiercely debating with the villains, poetically musing aloud and delivering stirring speeches.

Looking at the Doctor’s various regenerations, it is tempting to speculate that the transformative process does not just randomly assemble a new personality and physique but at some level, possibly only subconsciously, each new incarnation is shaped by the circumstance of the previous one. Hence when the First morphed into the Second, Troughton was younger and better suited to the adventuring life, with a greater capacity for enjoying his travels. When the Time Lords forcible regenerate him at the close of The War Games, they choose the look of his new incarnation – and being a staid and steady ancient race they naturally pick a distinguished elder statesman appearance with a matching conservative attitude for his exile to earth. However when the Doctor has earned his freedom and regenerates into the Fourth, it is almost as if the metamorphosis has deliberately gone for a younger model complete with a bohemian attitude that borders on the Byronic. This Doctor loves his freedom to travel, loves liberty, and espouses a Romantic philosophy of experiencing knowledge rather dusty book learning.

However he is also the most alien of the Doctors so far: unpredictable in his reactions and showing a far greater range of emotions, moods, and responses than his preceding incarnations. And while he may have jettisoned the slightly patronising airs of the Third, he retains the same openly Time Lord attitude, capable of being as very bit the stern authoritarian as Pertwee when the circumstances dictate. It is very telling that his major competitor for the title of most beloved Doctor, Tennant’s Tenth, has a similar personality spectrum – shifting quickly and easily from joviality and playful humour to portentous rhetoric and righteous ire. And that’s not the only parallel with the Tenth Doctor as we shall see later on.

While the return to wandering the cosmos is the show returning to its original set-up, the Doctor himself is significantly different. Now we know he is a Time Lord, and he acts accordingly. Although Pertwee pioneered the portrayal of the Doctor as a Time Lord rather than a mysterious old chap, it was Tom Baker’s performance that defined him as an alien, with his quirks and eccentricities being part of his otherness. And from now on, strange personality traits will be de rigueur for every following Doctor.

It was also in the Tom Baker era that the format of the Doctor travelling with a female companion became firmly cemented in the public consciousness. While it is true that this trope first appeared in the days of the Third Doctor with Jo Grant, there was usually the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton, Captain Yates and all the soldier boys from Pippin Fort, sorry UNIT HQ, were part of the regular supporting cast. Indeed in the Fourth Doctor’s first series, he has Harry Sullivan (played by Ian Marter) in tow as well as Sarah Jane.

Now the role of Harry was created before they had cast the Fourth Doctor; the reasoning being that the series might need a young actor like Ian Marter for the physical action scenes if an older thespian inherited the TARDIS. However at the same time, having multiple and mixed sex companions was just as much a return to the show’s original format as travelling all space and time. The first Doctor regularly had three assistants with him, and by the time Patrick Troughton took control of the TARDIS, the production team had found that having a dashing chap and a pretty girl was the optimum number of characters for scripts.

But with the casting of a younger Doctor, sadly Harry was deemed surplus to requirements as Baker was more than capable of wrestling Dalek embryos and the occasional bit of fisticuffs. Hence we have a string of single white females in the TARDIS – Sarah Jane, Leela and two Romanas. And no, K9 doesn’t count – he was essentially talking prop rather than a dramatic foil and often left behind in the TARDIS due to the behind the scenes nightmares getting him to work properly caused (particularly in stories heavy on location shooting, far away from smooth studio floors). As for Adric who turns up in Tom Baker’s final season, we will carp about, sorry, explore in more detail when we get to the Fifth Doctor.

But back to the tin dog. The inclusion of K9 is a fitting symbol of the changing taking place in the production office at the time. Although the Holmes and Hinchcliffe era is now regarded as a run of classic stories, and the show saw record audience figures, the darker material did cause problems for the mandarins at Broadcasting House. BBC bosses came under increasing fire from self appointed TV watchdog Mary Whitehouse, who frequently had cause to complain over the levels of violence, gore and general horrific tone of serials such as Genesis of the Daleks and The Seeds of Doom.

Now Mrs Whitehouse was something of a constant thorn in the side of the BBC; frequently complaining about sex, violence and swearing on the small screen (and I’d recommend interested readers to Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, a quality drama starring Julie Walters which documents her tussles with Auntie Beeb). However while often the BBC respectfully shrugged off most of her criticisms, her complaints over the cliff-hanger of Episode 3 of The Deadly Assassin were picked up by several national newspapers and the question of whether Doctor Who was now going too far for a Saturday evening show could not be ignored.

And so despite receiving massive ratings not seen since the early days of the show when Dalekmania was in full swing and not seen again until the modern reincarnation, Hinchcliffe was quietly moved on. Graham Williams stepped in as producer and Robert Holmes was replaced as script editor soon after. And Williams came to the wheel with strict orders from on high to lighten the show. And although the fourth series in the reign of the Baker Man saw Image of the Fendahl and The Horror of Fang Rock still playing with the classic horror styles – stories developed under Hinchcliffe – the series was moving a new direction.

William’s second serial The Invisible Enemy which introduces K9, encapsulates this shift. This adventure begins with astronauts in the far future becoming infected and possessed by a mysterious alien force, but the Nigel Kneale style Quatermass sci-fi horror the story starts out with soon gives way to outright science fantasy. Hence in teh second half, we have a robot dog and miniaturised clones of the Doctor and Leela beginning injected into the infected Doctor’s brain Fantastic Voyage style.

And perhaps it was a timely change; switching the emphasis to space ships and alien planets, adding more mythological touches to the stories, and including a robot character that the little ‘uns loved all proved very fortuitous. As Williams was taking over in 1977 – the year of Star Wars; Lucas’ space opera changed the way the public perceived sci-fi and the retooled Doctor Who almost by accident had moved in sync with the change in trends. And the Doctor was changing too.

After Bob Holmes has stepped down, Anthony Read took over as script editor for the second half of that series. However the other two Williams produced seasons saw Douglas Adams taking over the role. And naturally with the man who would later bring us The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” in charge of scripts, as well as more fantasy-orientated adventures, we got a Doctor who was a lot more given to pithy quips and comedy asides.

However as well an increased propensity for witty banter and a tendency to talk to himself that verges on breaking the fourth wall (“Not even the sonic screwdriver can get me out of this one!” in The Invasion of Time), the Fourth Doctor under Williams and Adams becomes much more of superman than previous incarnations. Like the Tennant’s Tenth, this later Fourth Doctor is prone to pulling unmentioned special abilities out of the hat, but more importantly he now knows it all. Pertwee may have been ready to patronise at the drop of a ruffled shirt, but Baker’s becomes positively arrogant after Hinchcliffe and Holmes leave.

And while the Doctor should be intellectually brilliant, he really shouldn’t become nearly all knowing, as this instantly diminishes the level of threat in any situation he finds himself in. And while it’s fun to see the Fourth Doctor blithely opposing ultra powerful beings such as the Black Guardian, the knowledge and intelligence he displays in this part of his career come dangerously close to making him as invulnerable as Superman. And this problem was compounded by the introduction of both K9 and Romana. With a Time Lady companion and a mobile super computer, we now had three geniuses in the TARDIS with enough combined intellect to easily stitch up any monsters and villains the scripts could muster. And combined with the directive not to upset Mrs Whitehouse, his adversaries don’t even provide the fright factor for the audience.

Needless to say, things had to change, and change they would when Jon Nathan-Turner took the producer’s seat for Tom Baker’s final season. And as he would hold the position until the show’s cancellation in 1989, we’ll be hearing a lot more about him and his influence on the show in the Fifth Doctor section and future instalments of these articles.

The last Fourth Doctor series felt like a huge shake-up. For a start there was a new titles sequence – a gleaming star field rather than the familiar Time Vortex tunnel – and horror of horrors, a new arrangement of the theme. The iconic Delia Derbyshire version was scrapped and replaced with a very ‘80s synth rendition from Peter Howell. And the show’s scheduling changed as well, it was moved from its traditional Saturday evening slot to weekday nights. But the stories too reflected a radical change in styles, and the first outing The Leisure Hive is a good example of things to come, showing a shift from science fantasy to a much more nuts-and-bolts hard sci-fi. New script editor Christopher Bidmead was very keen to get the science in the fiction accurate and now cutting edge physics - like the concept of tachyons in this outing - were the inspirations for the plotting.

The Doctor’s character, as ever, moves with the changing times. There’s less reliance on convenient new abilities, markedly less comedy and he is vulnerable again – seeing the previously breezy in the face of danger Doctor aged into his dotage in The Leisure Hive was something of a shock. However by this point, the Doctor is becoming more distant and something of a colder character than previously. Partly this was due to the tonal shift – stories brimming with hard science like Warriors Gate didn’t leave the character much room for either fun or moral crusading. But equally after seven series Tom Baker was growing tired and bored of the role, and the increasing friction with directors and the new producer are clearly colouring his performance. In short, it was time to go…

During the Fourth Doctor’s reign, the show’s mythos was significantly expanded in many ways. Aside from the occasional titbits about the Doctor himself, such as he scored poorly in his Time Lord exams, and that his nickname in those days was Theta Sigma, we also learn a lot more about the Time Lords. We hear of Rassilion, the founder of Time Lord society, and that despite putting the Doctor on trial for interfering in other races affairs, the Time Lords do surreptitiously meddle with the fabric of history to suit their own ends. Several times they deliberately have the Doctor intervene on their behalf, and the first shot in The Last Great Time War is the mission they give him in Genesis of the Daleks - to stop the creation of the race that eventually make exterminate the rest of creation.

We also discover in The Deadly Assassin that Time Lords may only regenerate twelve times. This means that there can be only ever be thirteen incarnations of the Doctor, and brings us conveniently to totting up how this era has affected our running totals of how many incarnations of the Doctor are there, and how many actors have essayed the role. Now the causal reader may well be thinking this is just a simple case of adding one to both scores on the doors… Oh if only it were that simple!

For a start, there is an alternative Fourth Doctor. In December 1974, two weeks before Baker donned the scarf, Seven Keys To Doomsday opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London. This stage play was originally written by veteran Who scribe Terrance Dicks for Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, but due to various scheduling problems the part of everybody’s favourite Time Lord went to one Trevor Martin. Hence the production’s opening shows Pertwee regenerating into Martin.

Now although other actors have portrayed the Doctor in various stage plays over the years, I’m counting Trevor Martin in our tally on the grounds that many years later Big Finish adapted the this theatre production into an audio adventure. So as he has appeared as the Doctor in officially licensed and BBC rubber stamped broadcast media, he has earned a place next to Peter Cushing in the ranks of apocryphal Doctors.

And speaking of Big Finish, in The Kingmaker the voice of the fourth Doctor appears. However the distinctive tones we are do not belong to Tom Baker! Although recently his Bakerness has relented and returned to the role in the audio medium, at the time The Kingmaker was recorded he was still rebuffing all advances from the Big Finish folk. But he did give permission for his Doctor to appear and recommended they hire impressionist John Culshaw, whose impersonations of the Fourth Doctor were a regular feature odf the Dead Ringers comedy show. Now does this count? Well, it's a BBC licensed production and Culshaw has the approval of the Baker Man himself, so clearly we have a third thespian in the role of the Fourth Doctor.

However, where things get REALLY complicated is The Brain of Morbius. In this Holmes & Hinchcliffe outing, a classic slice of their patent space gothic which riffs on both Donovan’s Brain and Frankenstein, the Doctor find himself going toe to toe with Time Lord criminal Morbius. The story culminates with our hero challenging Morbius to the Gallifreyan equivalent of a duel – the dangerous mind bending contest, a species of mental combat where the opponents try and overpower each others minds.

Now this psychic duel as we see it in Episode 4, has the Doctor and Morbius hooked up to some technological gizmo and on its view screen we see faces of their incarnations appearing. And here lies the controversy – at first the screen switches from showing Morbius to the Doctor, but the villain gains the upper hand. “How far Doctor? How long have you lived?” gloats Morbius as we see previous incarnations of the Doctor appearing; Pertwee, then Troughton and right back to Hartnell. And then … WHO THE HELL IS THAT!

Eight, repeat eight, other faces appear after what we thought was the ‘First’ Doctor…

Now this strange cavalcade of strangers (see here for pictures and details of who they actually were) surely can’t be hitherto unknown incarnations of the Doctor, can they? In The Three Doctors the Time Lords clearly state there are but three version of him running about in history at that point. So then are these odd fellows previous incarnations of Morbius?

Now this is the easy explanation that banishes the continuity demons back to the Howling Halls once more. But for some, including myself, this simply won’t do, as it just doesn’t tally with what we actually see. The Doctor is clearly losing; indeed he only wins because Morbius’ brain case overheats. More importantly, as the mystery faces are appearing, Morbius is gloating “Your puny mind is powerless against the strength of Morbius! Back…back to your beginnings!”

Another theory which has been mooted is that these faces represent future incarnations of the Doctor. However it makes no logical sense for incarnations that have yet to occurred to appear prior to Hartnell. Plus we have no indications that Time Lords know in advance what form their future regenerations will take. And again the above quotes from Morbius fairly definitely rule this theory out.

Now it is possible the Time Lords’ records aren’t perhaps as complete as they assume. In The Deadly Assassin we find that they have no records of the Master despite the fact that previously an emissary from Gallifrey had warned the Third Doctor of his escape from prison in Terror of the Autons. However it is later revealed that since then the Master had tampered with their data banks, expunging all mentions of himself in order to execute his schemes in this adventure. Therefore you could assume that their files on the Doctor have also been meddled with.

But the problem with this is that in Mawdryn Undead the current Doctor clearly states he is the fifth, and in The Five Doctors the First Doctor (Hurndall model) is very emphatic that he is “the original”. And subsequent Doctors and the show itself has referenced their number of regenerations, in Time And The Rani Sylvester McCoy proclaims himself as the seventh incarnation and both The Next Doctor and The Eleventh Hour show us a complete run of Doctors with no strange chaps with beards appearing. And most recently in The Lodger Matt Smith states he is the eleventh version of the Doctor.

So with the evidence to hand, another explanation could be that the Doctor was faking an endless stream of previous incarnations in order to fry Morbius’ brain. Now although this is an appealingly neat solution to the problem of the Morbius Doctors, producer Philip Hinchcliffe has stated for the record that the faces on the screen ARE meant to be earlier versions of the Doctor.

Additionally during Hinchcliffe's tenure as producer, the familiar white control room disappeared when the Doctor decided to use the secondary control room for a while. As well as being more suitably in tune with the gothic sensibilities of the show at the time, all wooden panels and HG Wells steampunk controls, there is also a old costume lying around that clearly didn’t belong to Hartnell, Troughton or Pertwee, which supports the idea that Hartnell wasn’t the first.

Is there an answer to all of these mysteries? Well possibly, but you’ll have to wait until we get the Seventh Doctor to find out more…

Coming very soon…

No comments: