CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO - Season Five Overview: Part 1

An article recently published in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's magazine, Celestial Toyroom, issue 372/3, as part of the 'Seasonal Variations' series and here reproduced for your delight and edification. And beautiful artwork on this issue's cover by John Waudby. Once again, thanks to Tony Jordan for the encouragement and publishing this material.

SEASON FIVE: “The First Duty Of A Revolutionary Is To Get Away With It” - Part One
(c) 2009 Frank Collins. If you wish to quote from this article please ask the author's permission.

Received wisdom has it that Season Five is, more often than not, to be dubbed as ‘The Monster Season’. In a run of seven stories we are overdosed on two return matches with the Cybermen (Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Wheel In Space), two skirmishes with new foe the Great Intelligence (The Abominable Snowmen and The Web Of Fear), an introduction to the Ice Warriors (The Ice Warriors) and a battle with parasitic weed (Fury From The Deep). A summation of the season also rather predictably accuses The Enemy Of The World as being the odd one out because there are no obvious ‘monsters’ in it but as we’ll discuss later, it’s not that anachronistic in relation to the rest of the stories. Whilst it may not feature ‘monsters’ in the traditional sense, the genre tropes it uses place it as a far better reflection of the 1960s cultural milieu in which it and the rest of the season sit.

Producer Innes Lloyd’s achievements, despite being something of a double edged sword, should not be underestimated because, without a doubt, it is he and his team who were responsible for creating the most enduring, and oft replicated, template for the series – contemporary Earth based encounters with monsters (often referred to as the ‘yeti on the loo’ format) that’s often coupled with a ‘base under siege’ story. It can be argued that Season Five, to its detriment, rehearses this format endlessly and inevitably towards exhaustion and essentially runs out of ways to contextualise the stories beyond this formula but I would argue that there is something far more interesting going on here. Whilst Lloyd truly modernised the series, for good or ill depending on your opinion, it is his vision that, erroneously or not, became the wider public view of what Doctor Who was and is, then and now.

Above: A rogue's gallery of adversaries from Season 5

Do The Hippy, Hippy Shake
From 1966, with Patrick Troughton in the lead role, the series shifts very perceptibly away from a grand narrative about exploring space and time. This narrative, more or less epitomising the Hartnell era, can be seen as a journey symbolising the end of British colonialism, the twilight of Empire, and full of stories that echo both the psychological impact of World War II and the emergence of Britain from the cultural deep freeze of the post-war years. Although later seasons would return to some of these themes again and again, Season Five offers a concentrated and calculated restructuring of the series, where the journey isn’t so much an articulation of the anxieties in British post-war society of the 1950s but more reflects and comments on the cultural zeitgeist of the mid-1960s and, in particular, many aspects of British counter-culture and the way British pop culture and mass consumerism replaced the angst over our decline in status as a world power. One of the biggest changes is with the central character, the Doctor ceases to be a patrician adult ‘grandfather’ and becomes a child-like revolutionary, ‘a little man who creates havoc with the system’, tackling some of the hot topics of the day; humanity versus technology, possession and conformity, the crisis in Western religion and nascent themes of environmentalism. By doing so, the Doctor is positioned as a British anti-authoritarian within a long tradition of British psychedelic culture that also found prominence in the period 1966-69. And he’s sporting an incredibly trendy Beatles mop-top whilst undermining various alien species attempts at world domination. The Doctor had gone 'rock n’ roll', became a metaphor for social change, and was reconfigured in ways calculated to disrupt the political intentions of his foes.

The trippy Troughton title sequence

Finally, it is important to also note that the series here dovetails with a mid-1960s obsession with Victoriana which is best exemplified, on television at least, as an empathy with the similar obsessions of other contemporaneous telefantasy series such as The Avengers, Adam Adamant, Sherlock Holmes (both the Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing episodes) and landmark dramas such as The Forsyte Saga. Mixed in with the trendy absurdities of Lewis Carroll and Spike Milligan, this resurgence of Victoriana should also perhaps be seen in the context of 19th century Romanticism and the counter-cultural writings and art of Blake, Byron and Shelley. In the late 1960s, futuristic themes merged with exoticism, romanticism and nostalgia. Drugs, the counter-culture and the hippy trail to India also suggested an alternative to the modernist dominance of Pop art and op art. Rediscovery of Victorian artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris stimulated a revival of historic and rural styles. The result was an eclectic combination of the modern, the ethnic, the antique and the psychedelic.
Turn On, Tune In And Play
Behaving like a child bunking off from school, Troughton’s version of the Doctor evolved within a perceived comedic subtext. His incarnation has often been codified as ‘Chaplinesque’ or described by the makers of the show as a ‘cosmic hobo’. This is partly due to Troughton’s own physicality in the role, his wonderful use of clown-like facial expressions and body language, and also the way that writers latched onto the idea of Troughton's Doctor as the symbolic figure of the Fool, where he expertly uses a childish persona to shield his hidden intellect. He is often seen entering each story with a degree of carefree innocence, a spirit in search of experience but with a childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the universe. In Season Five this is immediately apparent with Tomb Of The Cybermen where the Doctor, working with Klieg and Parry, with almost child like glee, inadvertently solves the logic problem that opens the tombs. The concept of ‘play’ was one of the 1960s counter-culture’s basic tenets where it was seen as an alternative to the 19th century work ethic. Satre had also observed the idea of play as a result of freedom, ’As soon as a man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom…then his activity is play.’ The notion of play as freedom is nowhere better illustrated than in Evil Of The Daleks, where Daleks injected with the human factor turn into unthreatening child-like versions of themselves and actively begin to play 'trains' with the Doctor.

Above: It's a gas, gas, gas in 'Fury From The Deep'

The counter-culture’s vision of play was to use it as a revolutionary tool, a way of using fantasy to hi-jack the smooth functioning of bureaucracies and throughout Season Five, the Doctor can be seen using play as a way to defeat his enemies. Everything from the casual use of his recorder to using the electrified cable to fend off Cybermats and stink bombs to choke Ice Warriors, and using a control sphere to pilot Yeti in the Underground. The ultimate use of play is in The Enemy Of The World where it becomes meta-textual in scale. The Doctor and Salamander are both ‘played’ by the same actor, with Salamander positioned as an anti-Doctor, an evil-doer pretending to be a benefactor, ‘playing’ a good man. This set of relationships is then further expanded by the Doctor posing as Salamander, as the good man becoming the would-be dictator, as a form of ‘play-acting’ and the story becomes a series of complex slippages between the two roles.

The second Doctor’s role in Season Five, more than elsewhere, becomes his direct opposition to the forces of authority, both human and in-human, using foolery and trickery to outwit them and which traces a direct line back to Lewis Carroll, a figure undergoing a renaissance in the mid-1960s. “Carroll is the don of comic reduction: shrink the essence of authority to a child’s scale, diminish the threatening urgencies of society, make jokes of them, show up their triviality – those are his imperatives,” writes literary critic Robert Polhemus. The figure of the Doctor in Season Five, just like Alice, expresses this attitude in much the same way that the counter-culture made their own critiques of society in a cloud of Victoriana and psychedelia.

More in Part Two

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