Doctor Who: Reading the Lost Classic Season 4
"Ben! Polly! Look! I found an error! The Sonic Screwdriver appears in The Faceless Ones when it's not supposed to show up until Fury from the Deep!
106 episodes from the '60s era of Doctor Who are missing. The Second Doctor's run was especially hard hit by the wiping policy of the BBC to conserve money and space rather than preserving tapes they felt had no more commercial value. Only five stories from Troughton's era exist in their entirety, with animated reconstructions used to complete a sixth, "The Invasion."
One season in particular, Season 4, has the sad distinction of being the only classic era season of which not a single full story has survived. Which is a shame because it is arguably one of the most important seasons in the show's history. It featured the first regeneration, the introduction of the Cybermen, what was at the time supposed to be the final death of the Daleks, and the beginning of Jamie McCrimmon's record breaking run as a companion. The writers of the modern series borrow heavily from it with good reason.
The rumor is that this may no longer be the case. Word from Bleeding Cool and other sources states that as many as 90 lost episodes have been found recently, and will be announced at the 50th Anniversary in November. This is addition to the fact that's we've started recovering episodes from space. No, really.
But even without the episodes it's been possible to "watch" Season 4 in a way. Some episodes exist and are easily available on the Lost in Time boxset. Complete audio recordings from all the serials survive and have been wedded to telesnaps from the sets by Loose Cannon. These are free to watch on YouTube. One story, "The Tenth Planet," will see a rerelease later this year with an animated re-imagining of the final episode.
For me, Season 4 has always been a literary experience. Almost every single serial of Doctor Who saw a novelization printed by Target Books, and these slim volumes are a wonderful way to delve into one of the most influential and amazing seasons the show has ever seen. I made it a personal project to recreate Season 4 in literary form, and now you can follow in my footsteps.
The Smugglers by Terrance Dicks
Terrance Dicks maybe the most prolific writer in Doctor Who history. He was the script editor during Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee's eras, wrote episodes such as "The Horror of Fang Rocks," contributed to pretty much every single line of spin-off original novels, and adapted more than 60 episodes for novelization. Some of the adaptations were pretty bare bones and dry, but no one knows the scripts better than old Uncle Terry.
The Smugglers picks up right after "The War Machines," with Ben Jackson and Polly Wright stumbling into the Tardis to give the First Doctor a key he had dropped in the course of stopping an out of control robotic mind. Initially, the Doctor is reluctant to pick up two new companions, but he's long since gotten to like having the company. The Tardis lands in 17th Century Cornwall, and the three are quickly caught up in a pirate smuggling ring that involves multiple murders.
"The Smugglers" isn't a very highly acclaimed serial, but Dicks' novelization is brilliant. Ben and Polly are incredibly playful companions who are perfectly at home using their wits to overcome superstitious locals. It's one of those stories that reminds you why William Hartnell was so fantastic in historical settings, as he finds himself right at ease playing a sort of wandering conman to outwit the brutal pirates and corrupt bureaucrats he comes into conflict with. More than anything else, it shows the changes that the First Doctor was going through at the end of his life, and he warms to Ben's courage and Polly's wit almost immediately.
Used on Amazon for just $1.46.
The Tenth Planet by Gerry Davis
Gerry Davis is the man that gave us the Cybermen, but for some reason he was never really able to translate them into novel form very well. The Doctor, Ben, and Polly arrive in 1986 Antarctica where a space tracking base is suddenly invaded by Cyberman from the lost twin planet of Earth, Mondas in our first encounter with them.
Davis is great with bringing to life the atmosphere of the cold, remote base, and it's easy to forget if you've just watched the modern series that the original Cybermen could be both unstoppable metal horde and uncanny stealth fighters at the same time. When portraying the raw menace the Cybermen pose the novel is at its best.
Sadly, it tends to come at the expense of some characterization, and we have little of the easy camaraderie of The Smugglers to work with. This robs the all important first regeneration of real clout.
This is one of the recent reprints, so new copies go for less than $7!
The Power of the Daleks by John Peel
No one does Dalek stories better than John Peel. This was one of the last novelizations ever written because Target Books was for a long time unable to secure the rights to Terry Nation's scripts. Upon finally doing so, these last couple of books in the Target Line were used to bridge the novelization line to the upcoming New Adventures format. As such, it's significantly longer than other novelizations, and more like a proper novel.
Upon waking up from his regeneration The Doctor tries to gain control of himself in a new body for the first time as well as deal with the understandable distrust Ben and Polly have for the shabby stranger. It takes the entire book for them to finally come to trust him.
They arrive on the planet Vulcan where an Earth colony has unearthed a Dalek space craft. The resurrected Daleks pretend to serve the humans, who are locked in a war between the oppressive local governor and the workers. The Doctor is caught in the middle, trying hard to warn everyone that the Daleks serve no one but themselves until the colony erupts in a bloody firefight.
Peel makes for some nice touches, including a recap of the end of The Tenth Planet and a cameo by Sarah Jane Smith, but Troughton's Doctor is the hardest to write because of the semi-improvisational nature of his performance. At times, the novel drags without much action, but it's easily the best way to experience one of the greatest stories ever told in Doctor Who.
Unfortunately, this is one of the more expensive novels. The lowest you'll pay is $30.
The Highlanders by Gerry Davis
The first appearance of Jamie McCrimmon is one of Davis' better works. The serial itself is a pretty boring affair that moves at a snail's pace, but here Davis's bare-bones approach actually works because he uses it to cut through the chaff and bring the dialogue up to a much more brisk flow.
The Tardis crew land in 1746 Scotland in the middle of a war between the Scots and the English. This doesn't bode well for Ben and Polly's accents, but they quickly earn the allegiance of the local laird after saving his life. Later, the crew thwarts a human trafficking ring that sells POWs to the colonies.
The novelization is particularly excellent when showing Polly's grit. She befriends the laird's daughter and uses her to humorously trap and blackmail a lieutenant into helping them. The Doctor spends half the book pretending to be German, and every minute of his interactions is hilarious. It's the beginning of one of the best three-companion crews in the series, and Davis does wonders setting it all up.
Only $5. Mine is signed by Frazer Hines!
The Underwater Menace by Nigel Robinson
If there's any serial in Season 4 that is near-universally loathed it's "The Underwater Menace." Yet in novel form it really finds its footing.
Without the low-budget of the television show readers are free to imagine Atlantis as a much more impressive setting than it could ever appear on TV. Professor Zaroff's hammy villainy is much more sinister without Joseph Furst's overacting, and the silly looking, genetically modified human fish hybrids can become something much more unnerving if you let your imagination run with it.
Robinson nails all the courtly intrigue in the hidden city, as well as the exploring the culture and people of Atlantis in striking detail. It would be wonderful to see Robinson return to the story for a sequel novel sometime. Just throwing it out there, it would also be a hell of a crossover with BioShock.
It's a middle of the road buy at $14.
Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis
Remember what I said about Gerry Davis and his Cybermen novelizations? Yeah, it doesn't really get any better. "The Moonbase" is one of the more complete Season 4 televisions stories, so we get enough of a look at the episode as intended that you can really see the flaws in the novelization.
Just as he was able to maintain the horror potential of the Cybermen in their initial stealth attack mode, Davis does a really good job scaring the crap out of us for the first quarter of the book. Once the Cybermen reveal themselves and the battle proper starts, it's a strictly by the numbers ordeal that only has the odd bright spot. Also like The Tenth Planet, Davis does little with The Doctor himself, making him seem wooden and one-dimensional.
Another recent reprint, you can still get one used for less than $1.
The Macra Terror by Ian Stuart Black
For my money Ian Stuart Black was the best of the writers to adapt his own stories, and it's a pity there are only three. The Tardis crew land in a mysterious forest on the outskirts of a strangely happy Earth colony where celebration is constant and mandatory. The setting is so weird and out there it almost feels like a Twilight Zone episode.
It's not long before Ben falls under the spell of the colony and betrays his friends, but eventually he is forced to face the hidden terror at the heart of the town in the form of giant crab monsters who rule through a human puppet.
Black captures all his characters with great skill, and the story has a real edge and a message about trust. If you pick up no other book from this season, pick up The Macra Terror. It's one of the best introductions to the novelization line.
They usually go for around $14.
The Faceless Ones by Terrance Dicks
The final Ben and Polly story takes place at Gatwick Airport in 1966 London. Young people left and right are disappearing, and it's revealed their identities and likenesses are being co-opted by an alien race that has undergone severe degeneration and needs the likenesses to survive.
It's not one of Terrance Dicks' best works, honestly. So much of the story relies on visual cues that are easily accomplished on television but don't really come across in prose form. The original story is something of a mess as the character of Samantha Briggs was supposed to become a companion but the actress, Pauline Collins, turned it down.
It moves well enough, but the final departure of Ben and Polly offers no real emotional weight. Ben is so happy to finally be back in their own time he almost runs off without a second glance. Only Polly seems to be torn by returning to normal life, and even then only fleetingly. Such good companions deserved a better sendoff.
You can usually get a copy used for $8.
The Evil of the Daleks by John Peel
Copies of this book used to run for hundreds of dollars, but the price has come down very significantly recently. Which is good because it is the best of Season 4 and one of the best Doctor Who novels of all time.
During the events of The Faceless Ones the Tardis is stolen, and The Doctor and Jamie are forced to delve into a desperate man's experiments with time travel to retrieve it. A man named Edward Waterfield has stumbled across the key to such technology, but has also accidentally invited the Daleks to Earth. Now they seek to use The Doctor to isolate the human factor that continuously defeats them, and make themselves invincible by augmenting themselves with it.
This was supposed to be the final end of the Daleks when written, and the horrific struggle between The Doctor and the Dalek Emperor is one of the most fantastic showdowns ever devised. Jamie in particular gets some amazing moments, as he is tricked into a trap-filled quest to save Waterfield's daughter Victoria after falling in love with her portrait. She would join the crew at the end of the episode. Peel does much better this time around, and the flaws in Power of the Daleks become triumphs. It serves as an appropriate bookend to Season 4, and makes the perfect case for tackling these beloved classic stories in book form... at least until we find out if the BBC has really found their reported treasure.
It's still very expensive for a paperback, but it's better than it was at $40.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events