In 1966, it became clear that William Hartnell could not continue to star in the title role of Doctor Who. He loved the job, but he was in increasingly ill health, and and arteriosclerosis (and the resulting diminished blood flow to the brain) meant that his memory was failing. At a time when episodes were taped with as few re-takes as possible because of primitive editing technology (mostly involving scissors and tape!), fluffed lines frequently went out on the air as if it were a live program.
But the program was still popular enough that canceling it seemed like a bad idea. Producer Innis Lloyd hit upon the bold idea of basically recasting the main character. I mean, hell, he was already established as being an alien of some sort; who knows what he can do?!
Once that idea took hold, Lloyd was also determined not to cast a clone of Hartnell, but rather to take the opportunity to strike out in a new direction with the character: a younger actor, more physically active, but still quirky. William Hartnell himself suggested Patrick Troughton for the job, Head of Drama Sydney Newman suggested the “cosmic hobo” personality, and the rest was history.
Troughton also loved the role once he came to it, but he knew from the beginning he didn’t want to stay forever, lest he become typecast. He also found the work schedule grueling. At that time, they were doing 40-44 episodes a year! He chose to limit his involvement to three years, at which point the decision was made to do the same thing all over again: roll the dice, as it were, come up with yet another sort of quirkiness, recast the role, and let her rip.
By then it was 1969, and they also decided it was time to move to colour, which shifted the budget a bit. To cope with that, the came up with a reason to set the story entirely on contemporary Earth for a few seasons. The result radically altered the dynamic of the show, giving it a more mature feel (not least of which because of the shift to almost entirely adult companions and recurring characters, rather than the previous model of having at least one teen) without sacrificing the core of what made the show work. If you’ve seen the new series episode-pair “The Sontaran Strategem” and “The Poison Sky”, you actually have a fair idea of how the UNIT seasons worked.
Anyway, on with the episode recommendations…
Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
The sad truth is that most of the material from the Troughton years no longer exists, wiped in an effort to make physical space in the archives at a time just before anyone had any clue there was resale value. The Beeb didn’t do reruns, they hadn’t yet thought of selling it overseas, and there was no VHS or DVD yet.
Fortunately, a couple of key stories were spared in their entirety, and one almost so. So, in addition to recommending these whole stories, I also commend to everyone the Lost in Time: Patrick Troughton DVD, which collects some of the surviving scraps from stories that are otherwise lost.
Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler
Companions: James Robert “Jamie” McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield Why it matters: Shows the full range of the Second Doctor’s layered character; best Cyberman story of the B&W era. Continuity notes: Jamie, a Jacobite from 1745, was introduced in The Highlanders. Ben and Polly departed in The Faceless Ones which takes place on the exact same day in 1966 when they first went off with the Doctor, making it an ideal departure for them. Victoria joins in The Evil of the Daleks. All of these stories are lost.
One of the most brilliant decisions of the Troughton era was the casting of Frazier Hines as piper Jamie McCrimmon, who appears on all of the surviving Troughton footage (having been introduced fairly early and stayed until the end of Troughton’s tenure). Troughton and Hines had an amazing chemistry that shifted the basis of the Doctor/Companion relationship from a sort of avuncular or grandfatherly distance to a true friendship, despite the fact that the Doctor was a 400 year old alien and Jamie was a young highlander whose entire life predated steam power. While there would always be at least one other companion (first Ben and Polly, then Victoria, as here, and then Zoe), Jamie was always somehow the “main” one. This episode is a good example of that chemistry, so that’s one reason it’s on the list.
This story is on the list also because the entire range of Troughton’s performance as the Doctor is on display here. By turns clownish and serious, and sometimes actively manipulative, the Doctor, while more physically able than his predecessor, nevertheless prefers to work as much as possible by indirect means. Throughout this story there’s a sense that the Doctor knows exactly what’s going on at all times…and simply isn’t telling anyone. He wants to see what they’ll do!
The Invasion by Derrick Sherwin, from a story by Kit Pedler
Companions: Jamie, Zoe Herriot Why it matters: First appearance of UNIT. First use of recurring friendly characters who are not companions (Lethbridge-Stewart, Benton). Continuity Notes: Victoria leaves in Fury from the Deep. Zoe is introduced in another Cyberman tale, The Wheel in Space, of which a couple of episodes exist on the Lost in Time disc. Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is introduced as an army colonel in The Web of Fear, which is lost. Links: Tobias Vaughn and his company bear resemblances to John Lumic and his Cybus Corporation in “Rise of the Cybermen”. This is explicitly acknowledged in the name on the side of the lorry driven around to pick up bums and convert them in that story: International Electromatics.
I didn’t really want to put two Cyber stories in a row on this list, but the more I think about it, the more I think this story needs to be here. This is really where the UNIT era begins. By the time this episode aired, it was already known that Troughton would be leaving, and groundwork was being laid for the Pertwee era (although he hadn’t been cast yet). Lethbridge-Stewart had been a popular character in The Web of Fear, and Nicholas Courtney was game to reprise him. He was promoted to Brigadier (and would forever after be known as “The Brigadier”) and put in charge of the newly formed United Nations Intelligence Task Force on the strength of his previous alien encounter. The Doctor’s collaboration with the Brigadier here would form the template for most of the stories in the next five years, including almost all of Pertwee’s era.
Two of this story’s eight episodes are missing, but their soundtracks are intact. The VHS release skips the episodes entirely and uses linking narration by Nicholas Courtney. The DVD release, as an experiment, animates the soundtracks. This has received mixed reviews, but despite having not seen it myself, I nevertheless recommend the DVD release to anyone coming fresh to the material, so you can see the entire story. The linking narration in the VHS version sadly leaves just enough out to leave one confused.
The War Games by Malcom Hulke
Companions: Jamie, Zoe Why it matters: First mention of the Time Lords by name, first view of Gallifrey (not named), last story for the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe.
The War Games is the second longest story, and the longest surviving one. It is, to be honest, a little padded. It is also, nevertheless, a pretty darned good story, and one with very high stakes for the Doctor. The only member of his own people he’s had to face down before — the meddling monk — wasn’t really much of an adversary. The War Chief and the people he’s working for are a different kettle of fish altogether. In the end, the threat is so great that the Doctor has to call his own people in to help him clean up the mess…with long-term consequences for himself.
At the end of this story, Jamie and Zoe are returned to their own times with their memories wiped, and the Doctor, tried and found guilty of the crime of interference with other times and cultures, is exiled to Earth, his TARDIS disabled and his memories of how to operate it partially blocked. As part of his exile, he is required to regenerate. It’s interesting to note that this is treated as a relatively minor punishment. In the new series, it probably would be dramatized as tantamount to a death sentence.
This is the last complete story made in black and white. A couple of the early Jon Pertwee stories are only available in B&W today because that’s all that survived, but all were made in colour. The next time any Doctor Who footage would be made in black and white would be the first few minutes of The Two Doctors.
Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
Spearhead from Space by Robert Holmes
Companion: Dr. Elizabeth Shaw Recurring non-companions: Lethbridge-Stewart Why it matters: First episode of the Third Doctor. First explicit statement that the Doctor’s physiology is alien (two hearts, different blood chemistry). Beginning of the Doctor’s employment by UNIT. First appearance of the Nestene Consciouness and the Autons. Only story made entirely on location, on film, due to a strike at the studio. Links: The Nestene Consciousness would be the first alien Rose ever encounters at the beginning of the New Series.
Lots of things change here. The Doctor is stuck on Earth, forced to live something like a normal life (something the Tenth Doctor occasionally longs for but the Third Doctor spends his entire exile trying to break free from). Fortunately, he has friends who know him, and even better, he’s plunked down in the middle of something UNIT is investigating. Unfortunately, as part of his sentence, he’s regenerated (only it’s not called that, yet), so the Brigadier doesn’t recognize him, although he recognizes the TARDIS and therefore is prepared to accept the possibility.
The new Doctor’s personality is neither a continuation of Troughton’s nor a throwback to Hartnell’s, but a completely fresh interpretation, somewhere on the Chaotic Good side of “Mad Scientist”. There’s a little bit of James Bond in this new Doctor, who is much more active, much more physical, and very into gadgets.
The Doctor is now surrounded entirely by professional adults with ties to their life on Earth — indeed, neither the Brigadier nor Liz Shaw ever actually travel with the Doctor in the TARDIS, and it will be almost three more years before Lethbridge-Stewart even sets foot inside it. This changes the dynamic considerably, and lends an air of maturity to the scripts themselves. The writing is now more sophisticated, while still aware of the younger audience.
While the car the Doctor steals in this story never appears again, as part of the Doctor’s compensation for working for UNIT, the Brigadier buys him a similar one, a yellow roadster known as “Bessie”, which appears in most of the rest of the Third Doctor’s tenure, in one episode of the Fourth’s, and one of the Seventh’s. Also, while the Doctor presumably returns the clothes he’s stolen, his sartorial tastes for the rest of this regeneration reflect the style of them.
Also? The Third Doctor has a tattoo of a cobra.
Terror of the Autons by Robert Holmes
Companion: Josephine Grant Recurring non-companions: Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Michael Yates, Sergeant John Benton, Bessie Why it matters: First appearance of the Master. First outing for Jo Grant and Mike Yates; return of Benton (seen in The Invasion). Continuity notes: Liz Shaw’s farewell never happens on-screen, but occurs sometime between this story and Inferno. That story in turn implies that at least a couple of years have past since Spearhead from Space, which is one of many things that muddles UNIT continuity and time placement. Watch this story before any other story involving The Master.
I peel this story out from the rest of the season (described next) specifically because it is the first story involving the Master. If you’re short on time and need a more limited selection to choose from, this one should be selected over the others in Season Eight for that reason alone.
It’s also, of course, a fairly solid sequel to Spearhead from Space, including a couple of scenes that actually generated viewer complaints for how realistically deadly they were (no blood, though). The daffodils are particularly terrifying.
Jo Grant goes on to be one of the longer-running companions (three years), and because the stories are becoming more sophisticated, their relationship is a bit deeper than most to this point. There’s never any hint of romantic or sexual tension, per se, but when she does finally leave him to get married, he is deeply affected by it, and almost visibly jealous.
Roger Delgado’s Master is not anything like John Simm’s Master. He’s a cool, calculating supervillain. But even from the very beginning, that odd intimacy between the Doctor and the Master is present. They should hate each other utterly. And yet…they don’t, quite. They know each other too well, and they share a certain deep contempt for their homeworld’s strict detachment from the universe. But their approaches to their apostasy are completely different and incompatible.
This story kicks off an entire linked season of stories involving the Master, with an arc that actually extends beyond it into the next two seasons, culminating with Frontier in Space.
The Rest of Season Eight: The Mind of Evil by Don Hougton The Claws of Axos by Bob Baker and Dave Martin Colony in Space by Malcolm Hulke The Daemons by Barry Letts and Robert Sloman, credited as “Guy Leopold”
Companion: Jo Grant Recurring non-companions: Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton, Bessie Recurring best enemy: The Master Why they matter: First attempt at a season-long arc in the style of the modern series. Continuity notes: If you can only watch one of these, watch The Daemons, especially if you plan to watch, or have already seen, The Sea Devils.
These four stories actually stand well on their own, so you don’t really have to watch all of them if you don’t have that kind of time. Taken together, however, the form the kind of thematic arc that the New Series has perfected, all following the shenanigans of the Master, and the Doctor, UNIT, and the Time Lord’s efforts to thwart him. Colony in Space marks the first time the Time Lords “use” the Doctor, allowing him to travel but controlling the journey so he winds up where they need him. Thus, it is also the first time Jo Grant actually travels in the TARDIS.
The Sea Devils by Malcolm Hulke
Companion: Jo Grant Recurring non-companions: Lethbridge-Stewart, Yates, Benton, Bessie Recurring best enemy: The Master Why it matters: Second appearance of Earth’s original civilization of sentient reptiles. Follow up to the Master arc in The Daemons.
I didn’t recommend Doctor Who and the Silurians, of which this is somewhat a sequel, because I just don’t remember enjoying it all that much. Others think it’s a classic, though, so maybe I need to give it another whirl.
At any rate, this story is probably the peak of the UNIT action-adventure style stories. Soon after, the Doctor would be freed from his exile, and fewer and fewer stories would take place with this “team” complete, until eventually, the Doctor just sort of stops remembering to go back and check in on them. As noted in New Series Season 4′s “The Sontaran Strategem”, the Doctor never actually resigns.
The scenes when the Doctor is visiting the Master in prison are, I think especially interesting. Again, it highlights that odd intimacy between these two enemies.
The Three Doctors by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Companion: Jo Grant Recurring non-companions: Lethbridge-Stewart, Yates, Benton, Bessie, First and Second Doctors Why it matters: First story to delve into Time Lord society and history. First time Lethbridge-Stewart sets foot in the TARDIS. Last television appearance of William Hartnell. 10th Anniversary story. End of the Doctor’s exile. Continuity notes: The actor playing the Time Lord Chancellor here also was one of the Doctor’s judges in The War Games. While not explicitly linked, it’s generally presumed that they’re the same character.
Despite continuity issues and the sad fact that William Hartnell could only appear in separately taped segments in which he had to read from cue cards, this remains a genuinely fun story, not least of which for the interactions between the Second Doctor and the modern cast. Patrick Troughton’s style feels a little out of place, at times — he’s still used to a more exaggerated “for kids” style that the show had moved away from — but there’s still enough chemistry to keep it all going.
This is the story where the UNIT formula really starts to break up. At the end of this story, the Doctor is released from his exile, the TARDIS fully restored — well, to the degree that it worked in the first place. Although it’s never stated, there’s some implication that all the work the Doctor did trying to free the TARDIS from the Time Lord’s lockdown may have fixed a bunch of other stuff, because, while the TARDIS remains unreliable, it is now at least possible for the Doctor to choose a destination and actually get there.
Frontier in Space by Malcolm Hulke
Companion: Jo Grant Recurring best enemy: The Master Why it matters: Last appearance of Roger Delgado as The Master.
Epic in scope, somewhat flawed in execution, this story probably marks the single biggest ploy of the Master’s at this point. The writers are trying to feel their way toward stories that fit into the older way of doing things (where the Doctor can actually travel), and yet also fit the more mature writing and characterizations. This is, I believe, the first time we see an alien race that the audience has never seen before on screen who nevertheless knows the Doctor, thus marking the beginning of the notion (made much of in the New Series) that the Doctor is a legend beyond just his affect on Earth.
This was not supposed to be Roger Delgado’s last story, but he was killed in an automobile accident while filming something else in Turkey. His death finalized the decision of most of the cast to leave the show. For almost three years, the “family” of the show was the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier, Benton, Yates, and the Master, and the actors all truly loved working with one another. With Roger’s death, some of the joy went out of it for them.
This story leads directly into a Dalek story that sadly is pretty much forgettable.
The Time Warrior by Robert Holmes
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith Recurring non-companion: Lethbridge-Stewart Why it matters: First episode with Sarah Jane. First appearance of the Sontarans. Continuity note: Jo Grant leaves in The Green Death, running away to get married a character introduced in that story. She has not been seen again, although she is slated to appear on The Sarah Jane Adventures. First mention of Gallifrey by name.
Watching this episode again after seeing “School Reunion” was actually a bit of a shock. Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) is so damned young here! And yet, all the hallmarks of the character are pretty much here right from the beginning.
This is also pretty much the definitive story for the Sontarans, introducing all at once just about everything we need to know about them. In fact, despite three more appearances in the Classic Series, they don’t really get much more dimension until “The Sontaran Strategem”. But they are a fun addition.
This story also marks one of only two stories in the entire Pertwee era with a plot thread set in Earth’s past. No stories of the era take place entirely in the past.
Although not explicitly stated, there’s a strong sense that Irongron’s gang are Saxon, while Sir Edward’s household are Norman — this despite the fact that “Edward” was not actually a popular name in England until Henry III named his son, the future Edward I, after the last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor.
Planet of the Spiders by Robert Sloman
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith Recurring non-companions: Lethbridge-Stewart, Sergeant Benton, Mike Yates Why it matters: Last Jon Pertwee story. First time a Time Lord other than the Doctor isn’t a bad-guy or a jack-ass. Last appearance of Mike Yates. Continuity note: This is actually the last act in a mini-arc that ran through two seasons regarding a visit the Doctor tried repeatedly to make to Metebilis III, a crystal he took when he finally got there, and gave to Jo Grant as a wedding gift. Mike Yates was disgraced and drummed out in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, so is not Captain Yates any more.
This was not how the Pertwee era was supposed to end. They had a cunning plan, you see, that would involve a build up to a climactic something-or-other involving The Master.
Then Roger Delgado went and died.
That said, this is a pretty solid story that wraps up a bunch of thematic material from the era. It also gives us a rare glimpse at the Doctor’s past, through his friend K’anpo. The special effects are VERY dated now, alas, but I still think the story itself works.
With the final frames of this story, Nicholas Courtney had appeared with all four of the Doctors to date as the Brigadier; he had also previously appeared as another character in the lost Hartnell story The Dalek Masterplan. He would appear in two more Tom Baker stories, then twice with Peter Davison and once with Sylvester McCoy, making the Sixth Doctor the only one he’s never seen on screen with. Sadly, he has yet to appear in the New Series, although he has appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures, and was mentioned in “The Sontaran Strategem”.