Doctor Who - Season 7

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Under the Microscope: Doctor Who - Season 7


Reverse the polarity! 50 Years since the best season of Classic Who

Season Seven represented a momentous turning point in the evolution of Doctor Who. Further to the obvious advent of colour and introduction of a new and radically different character to prominence, the programme adopted an original direction towards serious science fiction and possible "real-life" scenarios. Furthermore, a mature attempt was conducted to investigate and address social and moral issues. These were reflections from the then present and fashionable newsworthy items; events within which the interests of normal people had become irrevocably entangled.

Whether purposefully or unintentionally, several political, ecological and sociological ramifications were exaggerated and exploited. Season Seven premièred in January 1970; similarly with the commencement of each virgin decade we are promised the Earth. With this partially subjective ploy, they delivered exactly that. Supposedly for the sake of viewer identification and additionally the ever-present monetary restrictions - in this instance fundamentally scenery and effects budgets - the decision was undertaken to restrict the third Doctor to the confines of Earth, acting as voluntary Scientific Advisor to UNIT under the supposed leadership of the Brigadier. Consequentially, 1969 proved to be a veritable goldmine for those involved in writing and production. Many occurrences during this year offered bright and exciting visions for the future, including the maiden flight of the Anglo-French Concorde, the maiden voyage of the QE II, and the first men on the lunar surface (if you believe they actually did it).


The initial four stories of the new decade comprised a diversity of relevant issues and thought-provoking subject matter. For the first time in the programme's history the monster creations and visual effects became secondary to powerful and tight plotting. The concluding story investigated the implications of tampering with the laws of Nature; a battle between man-made science and the ecology, with an alternative dimensional reality thrown in. This appropriately conflicted with an intelligent reptilian race, vying hostilely (at least latterly) for a returned dominance of the Earth - the second story. The third depicted an associable space conflict with prominent Earth officials the aggressors, and the opener a storyline in which  an alien conscience dangerously manipulated probably the most common artificial substance utilised in everyday activity.

Testament to the fact the first two stories of the season feature intelligent alien life forms accrues the knowledge the majority of people still believe in the existence of extra-terrestrials (in my humble opinion, it is rather conceited to admonish the possibility). However, this is precisely what occurred in America. An official announcement was broadcast categorically denouncing the existence of extra- terrestrial UFOs; this concluded the American Air Force 'Project Bluebook' investigations of reported alleged incidents - despite limited proximation of said enquiries and an admitted fifteen percent of unsolved and therefore unclassified cases.


This actually had the effect of heightening interest, as opposed to the required opposite. Many saw this as a government cover-up, otherwise why bother to make the statement at all? Hence, the legends surrounding the 'Hanger 18' incidents, of which there was said to be a number of eye-witnesses to a crash-landed UFO that was quickly recovered by the USAF. Spearhead From Space has the Brigadier explaining to Liz Shaw that ten tons of alien material falls on the Earth every day, and that The Institute of Space Studies, Baltimore, reports five-hundred planets capable of supporting life in our sector of the galaxy.

Robert Holmes achieved an original storyline with the established Day of the Triffids / Invasion of the Body Snatchers plummeting pod scenario. The majority of the most effective horror stories are those which materialise comfortable or taken-for-granted everyday objects into something to be feared. The concept of a collective intelligence manipulating the very nature of plastic is nothing short of sensationally inspired.


Disregard the Dalek tour de force across Westminster Bridge; what can compare to the chilling but thrilling sight of showroom mannikins breaking through the shop windows and emerging on to the street pavement to summarily kill not just the military, but common civilians - individuals, including elderly women, awaiting public transport - and a beat policeman, which were treated with considerably more respect than today. It sounds outrageous to comment thus, but it is no longer shocking or indeed unusual to hear of an injury or killing of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.

I can currently summon to mind only three possible influences for this premise: 'The After Hours', an episode from The Twilight Zone screened in 1960, portrayed a female character discovering a mysterious ninth floor in a department store, on which the mannikins become animated one month in every year, only to discover she is one such example. The House of Wax story, which was turned into a successful horror movie, had individuals disappearing and being fashioned into waxwork models for a sinister purpose. In Ray Bradbury's 'Marionettes, Inc.', a matrimonially oppressed husband is offered a temporary improved facsimile of his wife. The latter instance is undoubtedly a cross-over towards an android storyline, of which there are countless previous examples.


The success of Spearhead From Space birthed a sequel the following season, further exploiting the manipulation of manufactured plastics; Terror of the Autons offered additional realism to the viewing public with the introduction of plastic daffodils, distributed by the costumed Autons to anybody prepared to accept them. Not significantly long prior to the airing time of the story, plastic daffodils were dispatched as promotional "freebies" with brands of soap powder. But in this fictional scenario, a prearranged signal caused a hardening film of plastic to be sprayed over the nose and mouth. The most fundamental items of a civilised society - namely a child's toy, a comfortable chair, a telephone cord and even false policemen - were seen to murder at a given signal or directive, gaining the programme criticism for a general lack of consideration regarding the vulnerable and malleable minds of children.


Doctor Who and the Silurians, the only story name to contain the programme title, investigated the dilemma of scientific curiosity against survival of the fittest. Malcolm Hulke's excellent script contained a variety of comprehensive exploratives. The premise of evolutionally advanced reptilian life forms has been exploited in other areas - particularly since this story - but seldom in a prospective co-existence with Man. Only two post examples spring to mind: one being the 1984 American mini-series, V, an alien invasion in a modern / futuristic setting; and the popular Harry Harrison literary trilogy, 'West of Eden'. Prior instances are limited to the Godzilla / terrorising monster movies. In a prehistoric setting, the 'West of Eden' books had man hunting further afield and discovering the Yilanè, a reptilian race of advanced intelligence. Their technology was based on the direct manipulation of nature, vegetation for buildings and appliances, and various land and sea-fairing animals for transport - unlike the Silurians who, coincidentally, developed their science electronically, paralleling that of mankind. At least, this is what the appearance of the deep-hibernation incubation units indirectly informed us.


The third psionic eye acted as an in-built multi-purpose Swiss Army Knife, emitting signals which operated locks and machinery, opened doors and burned through metal and rock, as well as maimed and killed. It also controlled the Tyrannosaurus Rex, utilised as a guard.

When Hulke was initially approached to contribute a script, he was determined not to produce an alien invasion or corrupt official story, which he felt the Doctor's restriction to Earth had limited the writers to. The concept of co-existing intelligents on Earth cleverly opens a veritable can-of-worms; the implications both morally and indeed racially are staggering. How would the population react to the knowledge of high-intelligence reptiles? Doubtless, an inbred irrational fear would assert itself, and a bloody war become inevitable (the Silurians, nonsensically, have no phobias about man, except instantly considering them lower life forms, and so expendable). With this prophetic scenario so probable, is it then acceptable to take action before the fact? To possibly save millions of human lives at the cost of countless Silurians who, conjecturally, have equal rights to inhabit the Earth? After all, they were indigenous life forms. To the Doctor's utmost disgust, the Brigadier behaved thus, effectively committing xenocide by exploding the caves. A typically simplistic militaristic answer to a prospective gigantic problem. But were his brutal actions justified, or should they be compared to Hitler's extermination of the Jews in World War II? We were offered an explanation in the outcome of the plot: if the diplomatic elder had remained leader - there was a Silurian leadership dispute, which is possible, perhaps inevitable in any hierarchical system - negotiations for a peaceful settlement may have been reasonable; however, having been usurped by the impetuous and aggressive young puritan killer, who had already spread a virus deadly to humans, prospects for the future looked decidedly bleaker. Still, is this a rational excuse?


Incidentally, on the subject of racism, in 1969, a year before The Silurians  was screened, Conservative MP Enoch Powell proposed that Harold Wilson's Labour government repatriate resident blacks and Asians. In America, James Earl Ray was sentenced to ninety-nine years imprisonment for the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Many an evening could be filled with philosophical discussions of this nature, which only further signifies the epic potential of this masterpiece script. Proof of this is evident in the fact that a Silurian is not seen in its entirety until the conclusion to part three.

There was another interesting dilemma created by Hulke in this story. Cyclotron proton accelerator operator, Dr Quinn, was helping the reptiles in return for promised secret technological knowledge which he planned to write-up into a book. Given the prospect of worldwide fame and limitless monetary resources, it would be interesting to record how many people might sell out the human race, bearing in mind it would be mankind offering the recognition. For his troubles, Quinn found only death.


Arguably the single most significant media event of 1969 was the American Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20, coming after a string of previous attempts to investigate space and primarily the moon - including the first link-up and transfer of men from one Soyuz craft to another, and the disastrous unmanned Russian Lunar 15 which crashed into the moon. Interest at the prospect of space adventure, spawned by the visionary writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and furthered by the numerous 1950's serialisations and Uri Gagarin's momentous representation of mankind's initial venture into space, was revitalised by Neil Armstrong and associates firmly traversing extra-terrestrial ground - albeit merely the Earth's natural satellite. The space program became of paramount interest; the world's most topical incidents, although some unfortunate occurrences on terra-firma demanded more immediate attention. Progression required a relating storyline which would transcend the concepts of rudimentary Earth-originated space travel.


David Whittaker's The Ambassadors of Death materialised as Capricorn One at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. Opposed to the US government endorsed conspiracy regarding a faked space expedition portrayed by the movie, this third outing in the Season Seven quartet analysed the concept of men journeying into space and radiation-infested alien doppelgangers returning in their place. This was an inventive original twist on the over-utilised all-media angle of the astronauts returning possessed or dangerously traumatised.

Rather than the collective intelligence of the Nestene in Spearhead, these aliens were highly radioactive, requiring an almost constant supply of in excess of two million Rads to maintain proper health and mobility. A minor weak link in an otherwise serious and intelligent storyline came in the latter stages when the Doctor was threatened with a phrase reminiscent of all the worst fifties B-movies: "We will destroy your planet." However, this clichéd slip is excusable in an otherwise gripping and thought-provoking story. It exists most importantly as a sign of outstanding eminence; the high-regard in which the Russian / American Space Race was currently being held. Proving corruption is not uncommon within the corridors of power, General Carrington, head of the Space Security department, hired the villain Reegan to kidnap the ambassadors the astronauts had been exchanged for, and utilised them as killers to rouse public opinion in an attempt to persuade the combined nations of the Earth to launch an attack against the UFO.


Initially, Reegan believed them to be the Earth spacemen, altered by a dangerous infestation of radiation sustained when passing though a rogue space belt; therefore controlling them by means of a primitive communications command device to venture forth on a robbing spree. At the conclusion, when the danger had passed and Carrington's treason had been highlighted, the Doctor calmly exited the space operations control room like Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western Stranger.

In retrospect, it is rather ironic that fifty years after that auspicious Apollo 11 display, the Space Race has not progressed far beyond the likes of sophisticated communications satellites (the majority of which were privately funded), long-range modules dispatched to relay tantalising graphic images of our solar system, and a string of troublesome shuttle launches.

More than a quarter of a century separated the TV character Michaels' plunge into infinity and the reality of Briton Michael Foale's Discovery excursion to test the practicalities of an environmental suit. The coincidental name similarity is rather prophetic, connecting together over three decades in full circle. Incidentally, in 1969 NASA was contemplating the possibility of a ten year plan for a Mars colony! This was reflected in The Ambassadors of Death with an early Earth-Mars Probe making contact with individuals of an intelligent race.


Don Houghton's Inferno managed to portray just what Malcolm Hulke had earlier strived to avoid: it created both an unimaginative monster and a power-crazed scientist. But despite this it worked extremely well. Many exploitative options and situations were opened. A project to drill into the Earth's outer crust to release limitless natural resources of energy gradually malfunctioned. When Professor Stahlman vehemently refused to halt or even decelerate the rate, 'Swarfega' began to squelch from the outlet pipes. Comparative to The Silurians, the machinery malfunctions were symptomatic of a considerably larger problem. When the hot green substance was touched, the victims retrogressed into green-faced David Bellamys - otherwise known as Primords, adapted to extreme heat and so sensitive to low temperatures.

Originally, this was believed to be too compact a script for the allocated seven parts, so the additional concept of the alternative dimension was written in. Nevertheless, it came across as being heavily padded, with many similar scenes and dialogue. But the plot allowed this to be acceptable, even enjoyable, as the Doctor attempted to change the course of history to prevent the catastrophe which destroyed another time-line.


In the alternative reality, there existed several subtle but significant alterations. UNIT was now the Republican Security Forces organising a scientific labour camp for the drilling project. They were a Nazi-like group - manipulated to their full potential years prior to the Tom Baker classic Genesis of the Daleks - with the "Brigade Leader" a ruthless and self-important Hitler, possessing little compassion where torture and killing was concerned. The paradoxical dimensional realities, to which the Doctor was strangely immune, allowed the situation to be played out in its entirety, letting us witness the result of an apocalyptic human error without sacrificing our own time-line. Infinitely more original than waking up to discover it had all been an awful nightmare! 


The potential time-bomb of ecological disaster is particularly valid in this day and age, with chemical pollutants, global warming, industrial wastes and a hundred other problems of living in a modern so-called civilised society. Certain parties continue to condemn or entirely ignore the work of Greenpeace. Inferno has proved to be rather prophetic in an indirect manner; 1970 was not generally considered to be an environmentally aware period, with only two turn-of-the decade newsworthy items: Canada banning the hunting of baby seals in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and antipollution guidelines being issued by the Health Education and Welfare Secretary in America. Only the fictional but equally prophetic Doomwatch TV series, shown at around this time, was flying the flag for Mother Nature. It is unlikely that this had any direct bearing on Doctor Who, although there was the obvious Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler connection.


Each of the stories possessed the all-important ingredient of an outstanding perpetrator, which elevated the plot beyond mundaneness. Everyone loves to hate an identifiable individual in these things; monsters, whether physical, parasitical or spiritual, is the regular answer to this conundrum. However, these are to a certain extent removed from emotional contact - meaning we are supposed to be terrified and discriminately dislike every individual of the species, although in this case the Elder Silurian is the exception to the rule. A human, or at least humanoid, is required for association purposes. An alien can be excused for the manner in which it acts. It might be inherently aggressive and know nothing else. But it is curious to discover the reason for a human conducting himself similarly. What are his / her motives? Perhaps a lust for wealth, power or status - all darker human natures.


In the case of Channing in Spearhead, played by Hugh Burden, it is establishment of a set goal. As a Nestene, it was his task to bring together the collective intelligence. His motive was clear: world domination. Playing the part of a human running a plastics factory, he was represented as an extremely cold and aloof character, with eyes which displayed the fact that he was always somewhere else - an integral part of the octopod intelligence. Channing reminded me of an early incarnation of the Master; the fundamental difference being that the late Roger Delgado's excellent portrayal was brimming with charismatic charm, essentially revealing the fine line between good and evil and the grey areas between. But was this the seed of the notion? After all, Delgado's début was made in this classic's sequel, the first story of Season Eight.


Dr Quinn (Fulton Mackay) in The Silurians was not so much a fully-fledged villain as a hero with delusions of grandeur. Whilst carrying out a highly specialised task with the Cyclotron, he aided the Silurians by allowing them to tap into the power required to revive their race from forced hibernation. In return he was promised scientific knowledge to revolutionise human technology. His objective was to retire and write a book; a reasonable enough aspiration, but not when condemning humanity to achieve it.

With General Carrington (John Abineri) in Ambassadors, it was a sense of xenophobia and anxiety of the unknown which drove the character. Hiring petty criminals to kidnap the Ambassadors and utilising them to rob and murder, he hoped to turn public opinion against them and persuade several nations to combine forces to attack the UFO.


Inferno had Professor Stahlman (Olaf Pooley) aspiring to greatness. He initiated the drilling project and supervised it every step of the way. However, such was his haste for personal achievement and ultimate recognition through success, he refused to recognise the signs of impending disaster. Ultimately, the intelligent scientist steadily evolved into a power-crazed megalomaniac - within the confines of the plant - who was desperate to witness his objective at any cost and prove to the world that he was correct.

In terms of manner, the Doctor was obstreperous at times, possessing little patience for individuals without similar superior knowledge and who disagreed with his views of the situation. He rather bullied his way into positions of authority, thinking nothing of ridiculing high-ranking officials. He harboured no regard for pompous officialdom. When the Doctor first entered the space centre operations room in Ambassadors, we heard, "No, I haven't got a pass. Why? Because I don't believe in them, that's why!" There was a similar exchange in Spearhead, when he bluffed his way into UNIT HQ. Once he had manipulated himself into high-security confidence, the officials found themselves sitting back and ultimately relying too heavily on the skills of the newcomer. The eccentric character of the third Doctor was exacerbated by the showy clothing he originally "borrowed" from a flamboyant hospital doctor, and the Edwardian Roadster, Bessie, his regular transport from The Silurians onwards.

As an accompanying scientist to the Doctor, Liz Shaw was given essential tasks relevant to the revealing of the plots. However, she appeared capable of doing little alone. For example, she helped the Doctor build the machine to destroy the Nestene intelligence, aided him in seeking  a vaccine for the Silurian deadly virus, and assisted in his TARDIS console experiments. As an assistant, she was too scientifically qualified to have countless explanations of the proceedings bounced from. In many instances during these four stories other characters have had to suffice as temporary replacements.


In 1970 the military was constantly in the news; the previous year the British Government was officially called into Northern Ireland to guard public utilities and keep the peace between Catholic and Protestant factions. Ironically, it took twenty-five years before progress was even hinted at. In 1995 an entire command had been instructed to return home as a goodwill gesture. In America, the Vietnam war had dragged on, culminating in the gradual but progressive withdrawal of troops. Season Seven marked the introduction of UNIT as a regular force in the programme. In this season, Lethbridge-Stewart was a strategic component in the UNIT organisation - mucking in with the troops - as opposed to the mainly supervisory position he regressed to subsequently. The Brigadier hadn't commanded his position of authority without possessing the required attributes and abilities; he treated the flamboyant character of the Doctor purely as a knowledgable Scientific Advisor, accepting his advice / instruction only when the situation was critical, or when he had no superior impression of the requirements. John Levene returned as Benton, the only other regular UNIT member at this stage, from Inferno onwards. In the alternative reality scenario he achieved his utmost in being uncharacteristically nasty, and got to join the David Bellamy club.

Season Seven reflected the previous year's prospects for hope and aspirations for short-term advancement. For the most part, recent British and global events promised a new turning point, directing us to a bright future, humanely, economically, and morally.

This wasn't simply children's teatime TV. The format wore the appearance of being intensively researched, to the furthest possible extent within the confines of science and science fiction. The extremely well-developed characters, aided by the time- versatile seven-parters, and the meticulous pressures of industry to achieve Nirvana speedily when hurried endurance so obviously results in accidents, sometimes devastation, compounds the overall feeling of realism when these storylines might otherwise be considered far-fetched. The entire season was vernacular, appealing to intellectuals who might philosophise contemplating such possibilities, in addition to a standard viewing audience who merely wished to be excited by a rip-roaring adventure. A conglomerate of refreshing statements were made unobtrusively, offering the feeling of synergism at the conceptual stage. This was serious drama at its very best.

(By Ty Power - a shorter version of this piece originally appeared in DreamWatch magazine 1995)