Season Seven has an ongoing interest in being “down to Earth” and current, which is reflected in the fact that reporters have featured in every serial to date: badgering the Brigadier at the cottage hospital in Spearhead from Space, and somehow obtaining his number at the Wenley Moor research centre. Now, we have Michael Wisher playing John Wakefield, reporting directly to us from British Space Control, and filling in the background of a mission to Mars that has lost contact. Behind him play black & white images from the rescue capsule – all of which must have seemed pretty familiar to viewers in 1970. Meanwhile, the space programme management is fretting about public opinion,
I think this is part of the “grittiness” of the season. The other part is the darker side of human nature that’s so much on display. There were human villains in Season Six, but Vaughn was a Bond style megalomaniac and the Space Pirates were distanced from real life. Whereas here, there’s a grotty warehouse full of sweaty-looking heavies armed with pistols engaging in the show’s most brutal gun- and fistfight. Michael Ferguson’s direction is, again, really impressive and dynamic with dramatic rapid cuts and handheld shots.
And then, in the middle of all this serious gunplay there’s the Doctor, in crushed velvet, lace and a cape, utterly incongruous. The look Ronald Allen gives him when the Brigadier says, ‘You may find him useful’ is sublime. Without Pertwee, this would just be another telefantasy show. With him, it becomes something a bit richer and stranger. The script gives him a couple of nice opportunities to play his otherness: when the alien signal is first received he sits, transfixed on the scanner. Later, as everyone else clutches their ears he’s concentrating intently. For the one known as “the man of action” a lot of his performance relies on him being the still point: like Hartnell facing up to the War Machines, he’s the one we’re drawn to in the midst of chaos.
The TARDIS has never looked as bizarre as with its Victorian parlour desktop theme (presumably this is the same console room that the Doctor and Sarah rediscover in The Masque of Mandragora – complete with stained glass window and a spare velvet smoking jacket). I refuse to countenance that this is just a room in UNIT HQ because even in the 1970s that arsenic-coloured wallpaper would have been more tasteless than Colin Baker’s coat.
Next episode: The Ambassadors of Death – Episode 2