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The original Season Three

I have been celebrating my purchase of the CD version of The Ark by listening to most of the 1965-66 season of Doctor Who on audio, all narrated by Peter Purves. I don't have audio versions of either the first story, Galaxy 4, or the last, The War Machines, but otherwise it adds up to 37 episodes of seven (or eight) stories. A child conceived just before Mission to the Unknown was broadcast would have been due shortly after the last episode of The Savages.

I think it's a brilliant run of stories. The First Doctor, having shed the original Tardis crew, settles down to being a strange cosmic wizard, with a slightly contemptuous and hobbyist attitude to technology and science, and a vigorous sense of ethics and morality. Peter Purves as Stephen plays straight man and action man, often tactlessly reminding the Doctor that he has no control over where the Tardis lands. There are no less than four female companions - Vicki (married off), Katarina (sucked into outer space), Sara Kingdom (the best of the four, who gets aged into dust at the end of The Daleks' Master Plan) and Dodo Chaplet (of whom I have written before). Nicholas Courtney makes his first Doctor Who appearance as Bret Vyon (and also ends up getting shot). And there are three particularly memorable villains: Mavic Chen, the Guardian of the Solar System who betrays humanity to the Daleks; the mysterious Celestial Toymaker; and, if only briefly, the Meddling Monk.

It's a tremendously varied set of stories too: three (or four) more or less straight sf, three historicals (two played mainly for laughs, the third a tragic drama) and the experimental format of The Celestial Toymaker. And having said that the Doctor's character has settled down, in fact we have a lot of experimentation with his own role: the first episode in this run, Mission to the Unknown, does not feature the Doctor or his companions at all; in the last of the stories, he contaminates the main villain with his life essence to turn him into a reflection of his own character; in between, he spends several episodes invisible (we also encounter not one but two races of invisible aliens), and, most notoriously, he breaks the fourth wall to wish the audience at home a merry Christmas. (A more minor point of formatting: The Savages was the first story not to have individual titles for each episode.)

The sequence is surprisingly bleak in places. The portrayal of future human society is not very positive - Mavic Chen is a combination of Tito and Franco, perhaps, with no democratic underpinnings, while the humans of The Ark survive by enslaving the Monoids (who then turn on them) and Jano and his colleagues are supporting their utopia by vampirically leeching off their own kind. Two female companions die horribly. All three historical stories end in mass killings (the sack of Troy, the eponymous St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and the shootout at the OK Corral). But The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters, and the Christmas and New Year episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan, are basically comic, and though it's not to everyone's tastes I find it works for me. (The twentieth century appears basically as comic relief in The Daleks' Master Plan, and briefly at the end of The Massacre to introduce Dodo; the first real contemporary story was The War Machines.)

With audio, the listener is left to imagine the visuals, and given the way in which special effects technology has moved on in the last 40 years this is probably just as well (perhaps most true of The Celestial Toymaker, whose one surviving episode is visually rather dull). The various Daleks, other aliens and humans of The Daleks' Master Plan sound particularly memorable. That is also the story with the best sound effects, with various jungly noises for the planet Kembel, and the sinister throb of the Time Destructor. But the two final stories of the sequence are musically quite remarkable: the narrative of The Gunfighters is framed in a ballad performed by an off-screen narrator (not everyone likes this but it is one of my guilty pleasures), and Raymond Jones' electronic incidental music for The Savages is innovative and memorable.

Anyway, I've written each of these up separately before, but it was interesting to put them all together and listen in the sequence first intended (especially to separate Mission to the Unknown from The Daleks' Master Plan by the four episodes of The Myth Makers). It is surely the most diverse season the show has ever had, in terms of setting and tone. Perhaps none of the stories is individually as strong as the greatest of the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes years, but taken as a whole it's one of the best sequences of classic Who.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
iainjcoleman
Nov. 14th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)
With audio, the listener is left to imagine the visuals, and given the way in which special effects technology has moved on in the last 40 years this is probably just as well

While I agree with most of your post, I can't agree with this bit. The design and direction in the surviving episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan in particular are splendid, and it's a great shame so much of it has been lost.
parrot_knight
Nov. 14th, 2007 11:44 am (UTC)
Is the change of production team between Wiles-Tosh and Lloyd-Davis discernable, do you think?
wistling
Nov. 14th, 2007 12:43 pm (UTC)
Hm, I don't remember Katarina. Dodo, though, I remember. Too bad PBS doesn't do old Dr Who episodes anymore.
bibliophile1887
Nov. 14th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
Season three does have some good stuff, to be sure. Also some new ground broken with the deaths of two companions (although the canonicity of Sara is still argued over). Gunfighters is amusing even though the ballad does annoy after a while and the Dalek Master Plan really should have been two stories. The Ark I enjoyed thoroughly and I'm absolutely gaga over the ending of the Massacre. Billy's delivery of that monologue is brilliant.

But I have to say that I much prefer season two. We have the departure of the Doctor's granddaughter, the teachers return home, we see the return of the Daleks TWICE and we get new companions in Vicki and Steven.

However, for the sheer novelty of new and interesting ideas, I will admit that season three does that very well.
(Deleted comment)
bibliophile1887
Nov. 15th, 2007 01:58 am (UTC)
I did, yes. Because she was awesome.

Got a Katarina one, too. ;)
frankymole
Nov. 16th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
"A child conceived just before Mission to the Unknown was broadcast would have been due shortly after the last episode of The Savages."

I'm desperately trying to squeeze in a viewing of the entire 1960s run (including all missing episodes as recons) between those two events... 4 months or so in, I've reached The Gunfighters...

It is a tremendous season, and (from memory of an earlier marathon) I did notice the change from Tosh/Wiles to Lloyd/Davis, which started affecting things around the end of Celestial Toymaker/start of Gunfighters. The Wiles-generated four-or-five-or-so stories are very epic and thought-provoking. Davis' are a bit more down-to-earth in a way.

Edited at 2007-11-16 04:44 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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