What’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it?
The Sixth Doctor
The Sixth Doctor finds himself teaming up with his Second incarnation to ensure his own existence in the present.
There is a distinct advance in bringing an experienced Doctor Who veteran in to write a story like this one, and that is that he completely understands the character of the Doctor. Robert Holmes, who worked on the programme regularly from the late 1960s, is one of the best writers to work on Doctor Who in the show’s history and his experience writing for various incarnations really serves him in good stead here. That’s not to say this story is perfect, however, as there are other issues at play here.
Holmes’ characterisation, despite the story’s other flaws, is on point. The version of the Sixth Doctor he presents here is a lot better than most of the other stories in Colin Baker’s first season. Here, the arrogance and hard edges to this incarnation are still present but they are dealt with much better and he seems a lot more recognisable as being consistent with past incarnations with the Doctor. Examples of this include his snarking with the homicidal computer onboard the space station and his unwillingness to drop the initial mystery despite Peri’s misgivings. Combined with a spot-on interpretation of the Second Doctor, and this element really works well. The idea of having the Doctor converted into a species that he seems to see absolutely no redeeming qualities in is a really interesting idea and something that has never really been explored before or since The story does have a rather heavy-handed nature when it comes to the writer almost lecturing about the issues surrounding eating meat and this is down to Holmes’ vegetarianism, but they are hardly subtle. One of the clearest examples of this is the character of Oscar who kills helpless animals for fun but cannot stand the sight of gore. The story also suffers from the rewrites and Robert Holmes’ lack of interest in Seville as a location is evident – he famously wanted the story to be shot in New Orleans and had a lot of jokes thrown in about the differences between English and American English. The story does also have a more general issue which is its attitude towards violence, which definitely seems to be down to Eric Saward, but is particularly problematic when it comes to the death of characters like Oscar.
It’s also really nice to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back in Doctor Who. Both actors feel as though they have not been away, despite a gap of nearly twenty years since both played their parts regularly and using the first part of this story effectively reintroducing them works really well. I really like the reaction shot when the Second Doctor realises that he’s picked up a cucumber rather than a knife in his initial meeting with Shockeye. This story does also add significant credence to the idea of Season 6B, which is a fan idea to explain some plot holes, such as Jamie and the Doctor openly talking about the Time Lords and the ageing of both actors. The two returning actors also seem to enjoy great chemistry with both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant which makes this story more enjoyable, but it is a shame that we don’t get to see these two Doctors spend more time together. The scenes with both Doctors together really fizzle and it seems clear that both men had great rapport and respect for the other.
Sadly, the story really drags. The story spends a lot of time with the Sixth Doctor investigating what has happened to his previous incarnation and I really think Peter Moffatt’s direction makes the story feel very flat and lifeless in places. The classic example of this is the reveal shot of the Sontarans, which seems bizarrely framed. The Sontarans themselves were included at the instance on John Nathan-Turner, and it is clear that Holmes did not want them there as he seems extremely disinterested in them. Speaking of the Sontarans, their costumes really let this story down, especially the loose neck collars which make them look less believable. Chessene’s plot changes halfway through the story, from being obsessed with taking the Doctor’s symbiotic nuclei to unlock the secrets of time travel, to seemingly converting the Doctor into an Androgum for no good reason.
Verdict: The last multi-Doctor story of the Classic era is largely flawed but great fun in some places. It is probably the story that seems to understand what the production team were going for with the Sixth Doctor, and it is great fun to see Troughton and Hines back. 6/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), John Stratton (Shockeye), Jacqueline Pearce (Chessene), Laurence Payne (Dastari), Aimee Delamain (Dona Arana), James Saxon (Oscar), Carmen Gomez (Anita), Tim Raynham (Varl), Nicholas Fawcett (Technician) & Clinton Greyn (Stike)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Peter Moffatt
Behind the Scenes
- First appearance of the Sontarans since The Invasion of Time and their last appearance in the Classic series.
- The first multi-Doctor story not marking an anniversary for the show.
- Final story directed by Peter Moffatt and the first Sixth Doctor script written by Robert Holmes.
- Last appearance of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. Troughton was quick to agree to return, having enjoyed returning for The Five Doctors a couple of years previously. He sadly passed away in 1987.
- The story was originally set in New Orleans, where the plot involving the Androgums and food tied into the culinary tradition of the city. However, funding was pulled, and the story was rewritten to be set in Venice, and then in Seville.
- Jacqueline Pearce was a last-minute replacement for another actress and would go on to play Cardinal Ollistra in the War Doctor and the Eighth Doctor Time War series.
- The TARDIS console used for the Second Doctor’s TARDIS was the prop used in the first two series of the Davison era as the budget could not accommodate the cost of the rebuilding of the original 1960s console.
- The first three-part serial since The Planet of Giants and the last to date.
I really like the opening of the first part, where the scene changes slowly from black and white to colour.
Do try and keep out of my way in future and past, there’s a good fellow. The time continuum should be big enough for both of us. Just.
The Second Doctor