Doctor Who – the Troughton Era

The Second Doctor: “It’s a fact…I do get involved”

Patrick Troughton as the Doctor

I just finished watching the final serial of Patrick Troughton’s time in Doctor Who, “The War Games.” If you don’t know, this is a massive, ten-episode serial that concludes with the introduction of the Time Lords, the very first time they are mentioned or shown. While we have previously met one of the Doctor’s people before, (The Monk from “The Time Meddler”), the concept of the Time Lords is first introduced in this story, as well as making clear that the Doctor stole the TARDIS and is breaking the rules of his whole people by interfering in the lives and times of others. Clearly, this is a major revelation that still reverberates throughout the series. Sometimes it is hard to remember that this important an element to the whole mythos of the show wasn’t introduced until the end of series six.

Clocking in at over three and a half hours, “The War Games” is a major accomplishment and a fitting end to Troughton’s time as the Doctor. The action is, for the most part, brisk. There are some surprisingly good hand-to-hand fight sequences (though of course there is also the obligatory magical hand-chop to the back of the neck that knock’s someone out immediately). The Time Lords come across as far more menacing and mysterious and powerful than they do in subsequent years. Philip Madoc plays the hell out of the War Lord, presenting a calm, cool, collected villain who is one of the most compelling enemies the Doctor has faced, before or since. All in all, this serial is a fitting send-off the second Doctor and his companions. Indeed, this is the first time that such a complete blank slate was attempted: with the first regeneration, at least the audience had Ben and Polly for continuity. “The War Games” ends with Jaime and Zoe being returned to their own times and the Doctor changing into a new face. Then a fade to black and I can only imagine the trepidation and anticipation and excitement that Doctor Who fans must have felt as they waited for return of the series. I very nearly started John Pertwee’s first serial tonight because there is a palpable sense of change at the end of “The War Games” that is different from the move from Hartnell to Troughton.

What struck me upon this viewing of “The War Games” was the sadness at Jaime’s and Zoe’s leaving. With the Time Lords returning them to their own times before they left to travel with the Doctor, they will never remember becoming friends, never remember their time with the Doctor beyond their first encounter with him. This presages what will happen to Donna Noble in the new series, but is accepted without much care by the Doctor. When told that they will forget most of their time with him, the Doctor doesn’t seem much concerned. The show itself doesn’t stop to ponder this and I don’t think the implications stood out to me when I last watched this serial years ago. But after the heartbreak of Donna forgetting her time with the Doctor and of who she became through those travels, the loss that Jaime and Zoe will not know that they suffered struck me as particularly distressing. Especially as Troughton was generally a more concerned and caring Doctor than his previous incarnation.

Indeed, what I most like about Troughton’s Doctor is his expressiveness, the way his face displays joy and sorrow, sadness and ferocity, concern and anger. Where Hartnell was contained, Troughton is expansive. In fact, while each Doctor has any number of traits that are both in common and different from the other Doctors, there does seem to be a fairly regular back and forth between the physical/emotional expansiveness of the character: Hartnell (contained), Troughton (expansive), Pertwee (contained), Baker (expansive), Davison (contained), Baker (expansive)…while McCoy isn’t necessarily contained in the same way as previous versions, his Doctor is much more focused and quietly manipulative than Colin Baker’s. Then we have the movie with Paul McGann – who is much more emotionally expansive and outward followed by Christopher Eccleston’s more tightly controlled sadness and anger. Tennant is, of course Tennant, all “allons-y” and big heart. Moffat kind of screws up this pattern when he takes over the show with Matt Smith who is gangly and bouncy and big. But we have currently come back to the more contained performance of Peter Capaldi.

But I digress (and don’t want to let myself get started on Moffat’s tenure as the show-runner…).

Series 3-6 are also marked, sadly, by far too many missing episodes. Even with the recently recovered “The Enemy of the People” and “The Web of Fear” (both of which are fabulous: the first for Troughton’s playing of duel roles and the second for the introduction of then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart), so much of Troughton’s work has been lost. This is a shame in general, of course. But I also think it’s a shame that we are missing so much of his performance as the Doctor because the show’s continued existence is due, directly, to the fact that Troughton stepped in and took over another actor’s character with such joy and aplomb and commitment that every other regeneration was made possible. He showed everyone that the Doctor’s regeneration could, in fact, be done and done well.

(I know, I know, I’m slighting the writers and directors here. Truth is, the continued success had as much to do with them as it did with Troughton.)

A few observations:

  • I do sorely miss the emotional maturity that Ian and Barbara, and to a lesser extent Steven, brought to the program. While the chemistry between the Doctor and Jaimie is very good, and Zoe was a decent companion with a level of scientific knowledge, it seems like the pattern of young people following the Doctor around is codified during the second Doctor’s time. There are certainly exceptions to this, of course, including Liz Shaw, Romana, Donna Noble, and Wilfred, but overall, I wish there were some more companions who were more mature and who would, like both Ian and Barbara did, challenge the Doctor on ethical and moral grounds without the hero worship that seeps into the characterizations.
  • The introduction of Lethbridge-Stewart, played by the wonderful Nicholas Courtney was a much more exciting moment that I expected. Seeing him in “The Web of Fear” before his promotion to Brigidier and the creation of UNIT was a delight and it made me realize just how vital the character is to the Doctor Who universe. I am looking forward to spending considerable time in his company during the Pertwee years.
  • I very much prefered the sonic screwdriver when it was, you know, a sonic screwdriver instead of a magic wand. Still, I had never seen the serial in which it made its first appearence (“Fury from the Deep”) so that was fun.

Tom Baker will always be “my” Doctor, but working my way through the Hartnell and Troughton years over the past year has given me a greater appreciation for their work and for some great stories that were told during those first six years. Furthermore (and sadly), they have given me a respite from the sexism that has become endemic during the recent years under Moffat’s control. My affection for the first two Doctors has also grown over the past year. I’m truly glad to have spent the time going through these episodes.

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who – the Troughton Era

  1. Pingback: The Second Doctor: “It’s a fact. I do get involved.” | TARDIS Regenerated

  2. This is a great read. Tom Baker was my first Doctor, but I stopped watching the show ’til my son got me into the new Who. Stumbled on Jon Pertwee’s run with “The Three Doctors”. Loved comparing the new and old Who so much I started TARDIS Regenerated…where I posted a link to this very story!

    I enjoyed your insightful linking of both eras with Time Lord memory loss, and how you articulated the difference between Hartnell and Troughton. And I’m also sick of the overpowered Sonic Screwdriver.

    Hopefully you’ll write more!

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