The sixth production season begins with a serial that pretty much lands the upcoming Pertwee era 34 episodes early. The credits contain, for the first time, Terrance Dicks’ name as script editor – a post that he’ll hold, with one exception, until 1974. Also making an appearance for the first time is John Levene as Benton – playing at being a spy.
Knowing what’s to come, it’s very difficult to appreciate this for what it is – the latest Doctor Who episode. It’s positioned as a sequel to The Web of Fear with the Doctor excited at the chance of seeing his old friends Professor Travers and Anne again, seeking their help in repairing yet another TARDIS fault. Instead, the team stumble across a conspiracy that centres around a compound run by a sinister company, International Electromatics, controlled by the charming but dangerous Tobias Vaughn.
After 16 episodes set in outer space (or the Land of Fiction), it’s good to get back down to Earth, and the realism of this – which plays like a budget ITC film complete with suits in unmarked cars, murderous private security guards, and silver-tongued villains – is a cool contrast to the crepuscular whimsy of The Mind Robber. Having the Doctor hitch hike, encounter a liberated 1960s trendy young woman, and begin to uncover a conspiracy makes this feel a lot more grown up than faffing about pretending to be a stupid alien on Dulkis.
The slight caveat is that this all feels a bit calculated: a conscious attempt to reposition the series to recreate the happy accident of The Web of Fear. The regulars don’t seem quite right: the Doctor is a bit more subdued than of late, as befits his role in this as an investigator. He’s also unusually sniffy about computers – presumably his experiences with the Quarks and the Master Brain have left him jaded. And once again Zoe, who left the Wheel to travel the universe, passes up on the opportunity to join the Doctor and Jamie just like she did on Dulkis.
On the other hand, dropping the Doctor into a different type of story is usually a recipe for success, and this works well enough even if the animation can only be a partial replacement for the missing video (at this point, the animators don’t even have tele-snaps for reference). Perhaps it’s a combination of the stark animation and the ‘grittiness’ of Derrick Sherwin’s script, but this is leaving me a bit cold.
Next episode: “The Invasion” – Episode Two