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20 May 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 140: The Tenth Planet, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Regular readers will know that it’s not just 1960s Doctor Who that I’ve got an interest in, but television from that period in general. Anything from the resumption of broadcasts after the Second World War up to about the end of the 60s is the era of television that takes up the most space on my DVD shelves. Either side of the pond will do me: I’m just as happy to sit down in front of an episode of I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners as I am anything made on these shores.

But the best thing about British TV in this era – for a Doctor Who fan, at least – is spotting those actors that you know from the TARDIS turning up in other things. The Avengers is great for this. Nicholas Courtney turns up in the episode Propellant 23, broadcast just over a year before the start of Doctor Who. While the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan were busy convincing the Thals to take a stand and invade the Dalek city, current companion Anneke Wills was playing the part of Jane Wentworth, dressed as a pussy cat, in the episode Dressed to Kill.

Just a few episodes later and, oh look, it’s Barry Letts’ turn to take a role in the programme. We’ll be hearing more about Letts cropping up in this diary a few months from now. Letts’ Doctor, Jon Pertwee, turns up in the programme in 1967, and the final season in 1969 contains an episode starring both Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara. It’s a Rani and Master team-up, 16 years early! Even Peter Cushing stars in the episode Return of the Cybernauts! In some parallel world, that’s the title of a Doctor Who episode starring Cushing as human inventor Dr. Who, after his series of movies transferred to TV.

It’s not just Doctor Who actors that turn up in the programme, of course, and it’s just as great when the likes of John Le Mesurier or Penelope Keith are a part of the cast, but there’s a special kind of thrill in seeing these actors you know so well from the world of Doctor Who appearing in something else, usually long before they arrive in our favourite sci-fi show.

Occasionally, as I’ve been watching through this marathon, I’ve taken a bit of a detour in my own time, to watch other programmes from the same week. I’ve dipped in to all-sorts as I’ve gone along, but I don’t tend to mention them here on the blog because, well, you’re here on Doctor Who Online to read about Doctor Who. You’re probably not all that interested in my thoughts on an episode of Coronation Street from mid-1964.

Today, though, I’ve got to mention my detour. A couple of nights ago, having finished up my entry for The Tenth Planet, Episode One, I sat and watched an episode of Adam Adamant Lives! broadcast 8th October 1966 (the Thursday between Tenth Planet One and Two). It’s important because in a small role at the start of the episode, we’ve got TV character actor Patrick Troughton. It’s interesting to see him here, so close to taking on the part of the Doctor. The filming dates aren’t as close together as the broadcast ones are (the episode, D For Destruction, was filmed early September, so about six weeks or so before work began for him on Who), but I think I’m right in saying that this will have been one of the last things broadcast starring him before the regeneration occurred.

I’ve been holding off on watching this episode for a while, now, because I was keen to see it in context of my Doctor Who marathon, and I was hoping I’d have a lot of interesting stuff to say about his performance, and the way it ties in with his time in the TARDIS. As it is, though, he only appears for the first five minutes or so, before disappearing from the rest of the story (though a main character for the remainder is played by Ian Cuthbertson, another alumni of The Avengers, and who will be turning up in Doctor Who about a year from now in my marathon for a role in The Ribos Operation).

The other problem comes from the fact that, having spent the last five months making my way through the First Doctor era of the programme, trying to pin-point the way Troughton plays the part seems impossible! I’m going to be keeping it in mind, though, and hopefully I’ll be able to raise some interesting points about the performances in a few days time, once Troughton has actually taken over.

What was more startling to me, though, watching this episode last night, is how similar Polly Wright is to the character of Georgina Jones in Adam Adamant Lives!. Georgina is the equivalent of the companion in that series, and can only be describes as being ‘fab’. Visually, there’s a striking resemblance between the pair, and she even wears a similar hat in this episode to the one Polly was sporting at the end of The War Machines.

Polly’s first appearance in Doctor Who came just two days after the first episode of Adam Adamant Lives! had appeared on screen back in June – I think it certainly says something about the feel of 1966. Polly and Georgina are both trendy young girls, who find excitement getting caught up in adventure. At this point, Polly (and Ben) are just along for the ride, though they're both growing to enjoy life with the Doctor.

I did wonder what this episode would feel like, being without the Doctor and the first story to really feature the 'Base Under Siege' format, I thought it may end up just being a bit of a runaround, with little actually happening. That's why I've saved my thoughts on the Adam Adamant Lives! episode for today - I figurers there was plenty to talk about for yesterday's episode without chucking all that in.

As it happens, though, there's lots and lots I could talk about from today anyway! I'll skim over much of it quickly, to focus on just one point. So, in brief: The Cybermen look fantastic as they move slowly through the blizzard. The 'massacre' of them by their own weapons is also quite effective. I'm absolutely converted to these Cybermen, now. They're lovely. It's nice to see the first use of a ventilation shaft in the series as a way of transporting a companion from 'A' to 'B', even though it's massive! At one point, Barclay announces that he'd never be able to fit through the ventilation shaft. You'd fit a fully-grown Krynoid down that!

The thing that really strikes me, though, is the addition of General Cutler's son to the story. He was introduced late in yesterday's episode, and to begin with I was a little weary of it. In some ways, it felt like the story was trying to have its cake and eat it - you get the shock of 'Zues IV' being blown up, but then they can carry on with the 'we have to get the spaceship back down to Earth' story, because they've sent another one up. As it happens, though, this part of the story becomes one of the most interesting now. It's not often in Doctor Who, at least at this stage in its life, that we see something like this happen. A justification for the base's commander to be behaving so ruthlessly. Here, though, it adds a whole other layer to the idea, and when Cutler throws Ben over the railings, having found him tampering with the rocket, it's all the more believable, because of his personal stake in the situation. It's really great to see this being added, and I'm hoping that there's more like it to come in the future.

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