It’s Still A Police Box, Why Hasn’t It Changed? Part Two: Koquillion It Was Really Nothing

Maureen O'Brien, William Hartnell and Peter Purves in Doctor Who: The Time Meddler (BBC1, 1965).

After a short break over the summer of 1964 – and following on from the first series, which went virtually overnight from a pseudo-educational literal bash it out before teatime effort that the BBC had so little interest in that they may even have actually broadcast it by accident to the ratings-conquering eye of a money-spinning storm made up of the word ‘Dalekmania’ in those funny triangular letters only with too many bloody rope bridges; and which you can read more about here incidentally – Doctor Who returned in the autumn with a determination to capitalise on those successes in every sense of the word. As in the word ‘successes’, although they probably would have extended it to The Official Doctor Who Capital Letters Set too if they have been given half the chance and an appropriate merchandising agreement.

That level of momentum is notoriously difficult to maintain, however, and while the production team were castor-wheeling out The Daleks at every given publicity-maximising opportunity, the second series would also find them having to contend with the dissolution of the original regular cast and indeed with their own increasingly desperate self-defeating wheel-reinventing determination to find the ‘next’ Daleks, even though the original ones were at that point pretty much the biggest cultural phenomenon on this or their own planet after John, Paul, George and Ringo. What’s more they had already tried and failed with The Voord, and many more failures would follow before they finally stumbled across a worthy rival. Although the contenders for that particular honour most definitely did not include…

That Darn Cat!

Doctor Who: Planet Of Giants (BBC1, 1964).

You may well recall that during the look at the first series of Doctor Who – and if you don’t, you can find it here – there were a handful of subtle, restrained and proportionate comments about the preponderance of manky bulk-bought reams of stock footage that the production team were prone to using as a way of avoiding having to mock up the resource-challenging likes of sweeping landscapes and extreme weather conditions within the well-equipped surroundings of a spare box file at Lime Grove. Once you actually see what happens when they try and film something complicated for themselves, however, you can start to understand why they were so keen to reach straight for the crumbly old bits of 16mm snipped out of movies that nobody really noticed. In the third and final episode of Planet Of Giants, a significant proportion of the storyline is taken up by the inconveniently miniaturised TARDIS crew being menaced from a distance by a conspicuously disinterested looking normal-sized cat, who is apparently determined to inadvertently thwart their bid to prevent unscrupulous industrialist Forester from getting his hands on decidedly eco-unfriendly compound DN6 largely on the basis that thing that was over there is over there. Although they manage to pull off a decent enough effort and make the visually problematic sequence look as effective as they probably could, it is still all too obvious that the cat itself subtly but very definitely changes feline actor between shots, wavering between a a tortoiseshell with a straight-down-the-middle light and dark facial fur divide like some lost extra from the video for Passengers by Elton John to another with a more subtle blend of mug-upholstery and back again, presumably dependent on which of the two was more placated by whatever Dreamies were called in ‘old money’. In fairness, this could of course be an unavoidable byproduct of the fact that episode three was actually edited down from two episodes’ worth of material that had somehow even managed to bore blokes in suits at the BBC in 1964 into submission and that the original two recording blocks might have involved two separate cats, but let’s not weigh this all down with science and logic. There’s enough of that in Planet Of Giants itself.

The Dalek Invasion Of Earth Is Astonishingly Well Made

Doctor Who: The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (BBC1, 1964).

It possibly will not come as too much of a surprise to discover that the cat out of Planet Of Giants did not quite manage to inspire a deluge of tie-in merchandise for the Christmas market in 1964. Nor indeed did it give hapless BBC staff designer Raymond Cusick reason to ruefully reflect on his not getting a financial share every time it appeared on screen. During series two of Doctor Who, however, The Daleks were everywhere, inspiring everything from bicycle repair kits to fish slices and even their own festive pop single (which you can hear much more about here) while shopkeepers counted through a roll of guineas and thanked their lucky stars for ‘Dalekmania’. The BBC and Terry Nation were both more than aware that The Daleks would have to come back and in a big way, and The Dalek Invasion Of Earth got this exactly right; ambitious, imaginative, action-packed, Daleks every three seconds, and – crucially – an entirely different story to their debut in almost every regard. It would be easy from this distance to disregard The Dalek Invasion Of Earth as a quick cash-in elevated to prominence by circumstance and hype – and there really was a lot of hype; for starters not even ITV shows routinely got trailers that expensive and prominent, let alone BBC efforts – except for the fact that even now it still looks amazing. Setting aside that explanation-averse cliffhanger with a Dalek rising out of the Thames, which does at least work as a cliffhanger, Terry Nation’s script is a clear attempt at taking on the big screen big boys at their own game, while director Richard Martin rises to the challenge with dynamic pacing, some very fast editing for the time – including lots of cutaways to Daleks, creating an opportunity for a joke that will be lost on approximately ninety three percent of readers – a skilful combination of imaginative location work and convincing studio sets, and just generally making everything look and feel ‘bigger’. In fact, it’s not really that far removed from the later big screen adaptation of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth… but we’ll get round to that. Meanwhile, if anyone has any idea of what that business with the two mysterious figures caught measuring Robomen on set was all about… actually, on second thoughts, keep it to yourself will you?

Other Stories Were Less Astonishingly Well Made

Maureen O'Brien in Doctor Who: The Web Planet (BBC1, 1965).

The Daleks haring across Tower Bridge, chasing Barbara past the Albert Memorial and getting a bit soggy at Queen’s Wharf is as strong a rebuttal as you’re liable to find of that tedious journalistic twaddle about Doctor Who being entirely composed of rubber walls and cardboard monsters until Russell T. Davies invented the moray eel or whatever it is. There are plenty of superb effects dotted throughout the second series, from the model spaceship that doesn’t look like a model at all in The Rescue to the flamethrower-strewn smackdown between The Daleks and The Mechonoids/Mechanoids/whichever spelling we’re taking as authoritative this week in The Chase. Even those oversized props in Planet Of Giants manage to mostly look pretty convincing. When they don’t quite pull it out of the bag, though… they really don’t pull it out of the bag. In fact you sometimes have to question whether they’d even known where the bag was in the first place. You’ll all have seen that Zarbi walking head first into the camera – possibly even without someone on a Channel 4 clip show shrieking over the top – but there are so many other slip-ups more worthy of chortled disdain than poor old star-seeing John Scott-Martin. There’s Vicki apparently doing her Wii Balance Board exercises to indicate that the TARDIS is being forcibly physically relocated, the hilariously unmenacing impracticality of the Mire Beast, the Optera’s Ragdoll Productions-anticipating general appearance, and we are probably best advised not even getting started on what can possibly most generously be described as the less than advisable ‘blacking up’ in The Crusade, which is frankly too shoddily rendered even to be offensive. All of which might well be linked in some roundabout fashion to…

There Are Too Many Stories With A Good First Episode

William Hartnell in Doctor Who: The Space Museum (BBC1, 1965).

Admittedly this was an issue that would continue to bother Doctor Who for many years – and arguably still does if you count the ones that have a good first seven minutes – and it equally arguably actually began with The Sensorites in the previous series (and there’s much more about that here), but series two was where the problem began in earnest courtesy of stories with a first part that was anything but earnest. There are few greater disappointments for Doctor Who viewers than a creepy, atmospheric and tightly-plotted opening episode followed by three to five – yes, five – of just wandering about going ‘erm’ every so often, and you will find more than anyone’s fair share of them series two. Take, as an entirely random and not at all obvious example, The Space Museum, which opens in fine style with imaginatively realised spooky business about the ‘ghost’ TARDIS and the Food Machine acting the goat, WIlliam Hartnell’s Dalek-impersonating interlude and a genuinely shocking cliffhanger, and then follows it up with seventy five minutes of meandering along corridors and re-enacting the Tony and ‘Control’ sketches from A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. Then there’s The Web Planet, in which a visually arresting opening episode with the cast wandering around Vortis in their Liam Gallagher-esque Atmospheric Density Jackets gives way to more or less absolutely nothing whatsoever, and adds insult to injury by at least making an effort with all that Top Of The Pops Studio Lights Meets Jackanory Kaleidoscope mayhem in the final episode, by which time most viewers had probably stopped watching. Quite how so many writers managed or indeed were allowed to put so much effort into their first script and yet follow it up week upon week with the first thing that sort of half came into their head is something that no amount of production documentation can ever really adequately explain. Though if you’re curious as to whether there is anything to love in the other three episodes of The Space Museum, then you can find much more about that here. Tell them The Morok Messenger sent you. Speaking of whom…

What’s That Coming Over The Hill, Is It A Fungoid?

Maureen O'Brien in Doctor Who: The Chase (BBC1, 1965).

One of the main strengths of the first series of Doctor Who was that even the supporting characters – with the possible exclusion of one-line wonder The Man From Lop – were well-defined and believable and given at least serviceable back stories where applicable, quite often with well-written ‘star moment’ scenes to explore their philosophies and motivation. At the same time, the production team very evidently spent a good deal of time working on the regular characters, ensuring that their interactions, attitudes and propensity for twisting ankles were always consistent and a point of straightforward viewer identification. Most impressively of all, some considerable thought had clearly gone into making the female characters as strong and independent as was practical at the time, and they even got to enjoy some deliciously knowing dialogue on that very subject. By the time of the second series, though, the focus is on The Daleks and this has all changed. The Doctor, Ian and particularly Barbara (“Oh boy… THAT was a mistake!”) just about manage to cling on to their established personas, and there are a handful of notable exceptions amongst the rag-taggle of Dalek-resisting civilians, but just about everyone else rounding out the cast of any given story ends up as little better than a one-dimensional cipher, all the way from the jovial village ‘bobby’ and the hilariously purpose-free Morok Messenger to incoming TARDIS traveller Vicki, who is likeable enough and has a good rapport with The Doctor but never seems to actually ‘do’ anything as such. This is presumably due to the bulk of the collective creative energies being given over to the realisation that the viewers quite liked it when there were aliens, which would be all very well and good if it wasn’t for the fact that Malsan The Aridian and company had about as much chance of dethroning The Daleks as Ian And The Zodiacs did The Beatles; and yes this does include The Zarbi, no matter what volume of ‘Plastoid’ badges they may have inspired. Meanwhile, speaking of largely functional and decorative characters…

They Like Big Butts And They Cannot Lie

Peter Purves in Doctor Who: The Chase (BBC1, 1965).

Quite what had changed during the couple of weeks between Doctor Who production blocks is something that may never be known, but the evidence is there for all to see – and boy, is there evidence. In the second series of Doctor Who, the fun and improving show for all the family, there is a sudden and marked emphasis on casting ladies with oversized backsides, and what’s more the cameramen go out of their way to draw attention to this, anchoring their shots on the back-gotters and lingering thereon until William Hartnell deigns to start speaking and they reluctantly have to turn their lenses towards him. Even allowing for the vagaries of sixties fashion, this still all seems mildly jarring and, well, overabundant. This reaches a dubious highpoint when an extra of truly Kardashian proportions takes a stroll around the top of the Empire State Building, attracting the intent attention of not only comedy Good Ol’ Boy Morton Dill but also a suspiciously modern-looking fellow extra, whose reaction was almost certainly authentic. Meanwhile while we’re in that general area, later on in the story there’s the inadvertent exposure of Barbara’s pants. Perhaps she had ants in them…

William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and William Hartnell in Doctor Who: The Chase (BBC1, 1965).

Seriously, What’s With All The Ants?

Carol Ann Ford in Doctor Who: Planet Of Giants (BBC1, 1964).

In Planet Of Giants, the miniaturised TARDIS crew encounter a DN6-immobilised giant ant. This is, it has to be said, an acceptable and even predictable plot device for this particular storyline. What is somewhat less acceptable, and certainly less predictable, is the heavy recurrence of ants throughout the rest of the series. Not only is Ian tortured in The Crusade by Ibrahim The Bandit dabbing a trail of date honey to his wrists and inviting his ‘little friends’ to sample the ‘great delicacy’ – which apparently constitutes “such ecstasy!” – there’s also the not inconsiderable matter of the elephant-sized ants in the room in the cumbersome shape of The Zarbi. In the second series of Doctor Who, the Stewart Lee’s True Fables-esque struggle between man and ant is as all-pervading a feature as the more widely remarked upon predominance of Mercury and Static Electricity as miracle scientific cure-alls. So why the sudden fear of our eusocial chums? Did David Whittaker live in a state of constant anxiety about a six-legged army hightailing it out of his kitchen carrying entire slices of cake and joints of ham? Sadly, unless there are any long-lost internal memos headed ‘Thirty Two Points Of Worry (Over Ants)’ knocking about, we may never know.

Why Are There Only Eight Planets On The Time Space Visualiser?

Jacqueline Hill and William Russell in Doctor Who: The Chase (BBC1, 1965).

The closest planet in the Solar System to The Sun, metal and silicate-based terrestrial body Mercury was first definitively observed as far back as the Fourteenth Century. Remotely mapped several times from the 1800s onwards, it was finally subjected to modern scientific analysis when a team of Russian scientists successfully bounced a radar signal off its surface in June 1962. However, news of this clearly had not filtered through to whoever made the Time Space Visualiser that The Doctor ‘borrowed’ from The Space Museum. Although ostensibly allowing visual access to any moment in space and time within the solar system, it actually only features labelled controls for eight planets – including Pluto; the International Astronomical Union hadn’t got around to saying ‘aaaaaaaahhhhh’ about it yet – with poor old Mercury missed out altogether. We can only presume that its close proximity to the sun and negligible atmosphere renders it beyond the technological reach of the Time Space Visualiser. Either that, or whoever designed it wasn’t really taken with that Kurt Vonnegut Jr novel where those splodgy things hang on the cave walls or something. Also, while we’re on the subject…

The Beatles Were As Awkwardly Crowbarred In As Any Modern Day ‘Reference’

The Beatles in Doctor Who: The Chase (BBC1, 1965).

Well, let’s not set about rewriting history – not one line – as there’s no escaping the fact that even by the Summer of 1965, The Beatles were ever so slightly huge. They were already an almost unprecedented two and a half years into a chart-topping career with only The Rolling Stones and The Daleks as close rivals – no matter what Dave Clark might think – and Ticket To Ride was not only their ninth hit, it was also their seventh consecutive number one – not to mention taken from the soundtrack of their second box office-walloping feature film. That all said, however, there’s no getting away from the fact that a large part of the potential audience of Doctor Who couldn’t stand the sight of John, Paul, George or indeed Ringo, regarding them as an annoyingly ubiquitous and over-lauded passing fad who to them weren’t really distinguishable from Heinz or The Swinging Blue Jeans or indeed any of ‘the pop groups’ with their long hair and their electric microphones and their silly suits who all sounded like they had their finger trapped in a door and why does the BBC insist on showing them on programmes that exist entirely to provide exposure to ‘the pop groups’ et cetera et cetera. At that time there was little to no suggestion that The Beatles would make such a dramatic artistic leap forwards only a couple of months later, never mind that they would go on to fundamentally alter the sociocultural positioning of the entire world with arguably the most influential legacy in popular cultural history on any and every level, and there were plenty of people out there who were heartily sick of the merest mention of the Fab Four. So when they showed up on the Time Space Visualiser in the first episode of The Chase, was it really any better – for a large proportion of the audience at least – than when a present day episode gratuitously crowbars in an appearance by a Reality TV star or reference to some pop favourite du jour? No, it’s not – and it could so easily have been Herman’s Hermits…

Was This The First Ever ‘Reboot’?

Peter Butterworth in Doctor Who: The Time Meddler (BBC1, 1965).

As exciting as The Dalek Invasion Of Earth is, as amusing as The Romans is, as good as William Hartnell continues to be, as much as any given villain might make thinly veiled statements of faintly S&M-tinged malign intent towards Barbara, even the most ardent adherent of the black and white era would have to admit that in the second series of Doctor Who, there’s an overall feeling that they were coasting on their success a little. Except that, right at the end of the series, something very odd happens. Terry Nation’s The Chase, another set of scripts well above the batting average, combines thrills, action and self-contained comic setpieces with a deftness that would have had the average adult series further on in the Saturday schedules seething with envy. It also waves goodbye to Ian and Barbara with a beautifully light-hearted and surprisingly ‘modern’ montage of them larking about in Central London, introduces new companion Steven as a much-needed mouthy know-all, and most significantly unveils The Mechonoids, the closest thing to a rival to The Daleks until The Cybermen came along, and hurls them into a literal guns-blazing battle with said rivals in a sequence that must have left the average 1965 youngster reeling or at the very least rushing straight out into the street to ‘play’ Mechanus. Then the final story, The Time Meddler, not only introduces us to the first ever fellow renegade member of The Doctor’s race in the form of Peter Butterworth as The Monk, but is also carried along by a wit and verve that has seldom if ever been witnessed in Doctor Who before now. Even the stock footage of longships looks quite convincing, although that shot of a fox appears to hail from another somewhat grainier universe. Frankly there is too much of it going on to arrive at any other conclusion than that the production team had decided to up their game and get more in step with whatever else was grabbing the family audience at that time. Which was… um… well ITV were scheduling Thank Your Lucky Stars against Doctor Who so… had Quick Before They Catch Us started yet? Anyway, whoever and whatever had managed to convince them to dial everything up a notch, the fact of the matter is that they did, and when Doctor Who returned after a short break, all manner of mayhem was about to break loose… but we’ve got a slight detour to take first

Next Time! A Postmodern Tramp, yet more base voyeurism, Ian singing The Glory Of Love and something about Professor Kitzel falling down a plughole…

Doctor Who: The Chase (BBC1, 1965).

Buy A Book!

You can find an expanded version of It’s Still A Police Box, Why Hasn’t It Changed? covering the entire sixties run of Doctor Who in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. I mean you may as well try getting a line of ants to deliver it.

Further Reading

Is there actually anything to love in episodes two to four of The Space Museum? Find out in All We Do Is Stand Around here!

Further Listening

You can find out all about I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek – The Daleks’ hilariously unsuccessful bid to do festive hit parade battle with The Fab Four – in (Music For) The Head Ballet here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.