Welcome to The Doctor Who Classics Guide! This is a special series that aims to take an objective look at each Classic Doctor Who story. If you’re new, please read the introduction first.
I’ve got a friend who specialises in trouble; he dives in and usually finds a way.
— Ian Chesterson, The Romans
In many ways, the underlying theme of Doctor Who‘s second series was something the show has subsequently thrived on for over 50 years: change. The 1964/5 series represents some of the first major changes for Doctor Who, many of which began to push the show in the direction of the series we know and love today. Kicking it off was Susan’s departure and her subsequent replacement in the form of a teenager from the 25th century, and later beloved schoolteachers Ian and Barbara choosing to follow a similar course and leaving the TARDIS, replaced by a
great looking astronaut from the future. It was the year writers began to really experiment with the show’s style; the TARDIS was no longer simply a vehicle that served to transport the travelers between serious, life-threatening adventures. 1965 was the year we got (among other things) a timey-wimey plotline, a story that thrived on black comedy, bizarrely comedic Daleks, the first pseudo-historical plot, and a girl with a pet alligator. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but each success and failure served as precedent for Doctor Who writers to this day. The first series had been about establishing in the show, and now series two was about discovering where it most comfortably sat in the TV world; Doctor Who had found it’s feet, and it seemed like it was really here to stay.
Series 2 (1964-65)
Doctor: First (William Hartnell)
Companions: Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Steven Taylor (Peter Purves)
- Number of stories: 9
- Number of “existing” episodes: 37/39
- Number of missing episodes: 2/39
- Not animated but telesnaps exist: 2/2
Planet of Giants
We have been reduced roughly to the size of an inch.
— The Doctor
The main doors of the TARDIS open of their own accord just before it materialises, causing it to run out of control. On emerging, the travellers discover that the ship has been reduced in size and they are now only about an inch tall.
In my mind, this story will always be called Honey, I Shrunk the Doctor – and not just because it’s about four people being miniaturised. The TARDIS lands in a backyard, where the crew encounters “giant” insects and nearly get attacked by the household cat. Really, need I say more?
While there’s no major faults in this story, laying out the good and bad points soon makes you realise that the latter outweighs the former. One thing that annoys me the most the characterisation – or should I say the lack of it. Season one saw a development of the TARDIS crew; through sticky situations, morality battles and experiencing new times and places we got to watch them change and become better people (with the exception of Susan, which is exactly why Carole Ann Ford left). But in this story, it just feels like everything’s gone backwards, Barbara especially. Basically throughout the whole thing you can’t help but sit there and think (or in my case shout) “but why are you doing that?! Your characters should be doing this!”
However, if you can look past all that then you’ll realise that the redeeming factors are there. For a start, the production values in this story is amazing. Normally whilst watching Classic-Who you find yourself thinking “that’s just styrofoam/a model/gladwrap/cardboard, but it’s cool anyway”. But here I present a challenge for you: watch this story and tell me how they made the giant plughole, plug & chain, matches, matchbox, phone etc on a tiny budget. What they managed to achieve given the time and resources is amazing.
Is it worth your time? At only three episodes, Planet of Giants is short and fun, so you don’t have much to lose. At the same time the entire thing is a somewhat shaky, frustrating, blink-and-you’ll-forget-it story that basically does nothing for the continuity of the season itself or the overall canon. Think The Edge of Destruction but without the characterisation. In essence, if you’re going to skip anything you should definitely consider skipping this.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth
Re-bel against us and the Da-leks will destroy Lon-don comp-lete-ly. You will all die; the males, the fe-males, the des-cen-dants.
— The Daleks
The TARDIS materialises in London sometime after the year 2164. Dalek invaders are now ruling the Earth with the aid of humans converted into zombie-like Robomen, but they are opposed by a group of resistance fighters led by the wheelchair-bound Dortmun.
Basically, The Dalek Invasion of Earth does what it says on the tin. Written in response to the unexpected ‘Dalekmania’ that emerged after the broadcast of The Daleks a year earlier, this six-part epic saw the Doctor’s most popular foes invade London in the far future. Of all the stories in the Hartnell era this one definitely had a high impact, with clips and references made to this story left right and centre for years to come.
When you compare it to the stories we have today, the idea of the Daleks – or any extraterrestrial creature – invading Earth seems boring and overdone. But remember that this serial was made at a time when sci-fi was a much newer genre, and the idea of evil Nazi creatures invading our home still seemed terrifying. Does it feel dated? Yes – just keep that in mind as you approach it.
Putting that aside, I think the main problem is that it’s very action-heavy, and for a six-parter there isn’t really much to the storyline – it’s really just the Daleks rolling around and doing generally scary things while the Doctor attempts to stop them while also not getting himself killed. It does have some great characterisation elements though, and Barbara really gets a chance to shine from a ‘feminist’ viewpoint – she even runs over a bunch of Daleks with a truck (I mean, come on!). It definitely has it’s moments, and is notable for the departure of Susan, and the moving speech the Doctor gives to his granddaughter before leaving her behind.
Is it worth your time? If you like the Daleks, absolutely. And even though it’s not the best story on offer and is a bit lengthy, it’s contribution to the legacy is astounding. It’s pretty much a Whovian ‘must-see’, and considering the masses of references to this story out there you’ll be doing yourself a favour if you view it. If you still decide to skip this story I highly recommend at least viewing the Doctor’s goodbye to Susan, as it’s a pretty significant Doctor Who moment.
Barbara: We left in 1963.
Vicki: 1963! But that means you’re about five hundred and fifty years old!
Also known as: Doctor Who and Tanni (after the original name chosen for Vicki’s character)
Number of episodes: 2
Setting type: Deserted alien planet
DWM “The First 50 Years” poll ranking: 171st of 241 (bottom 30%)
Arriving on the planet Dido in the late 25th century, the time travelers discover a crashed spaceship from Earth. Its two occupants – a paralysed man named Bennett and young girl named Vicki – are living in fear of a creature called Koquillion, a native whose people have apparently killed the other members of the human expedition.
At the end of the day, The Rescue isn’t really a story at all – but it kind of wasn’t meant to be. As a two-parter tasked with attempting to establish a new female lead the story makes little attempt to mask it’s true purpose, and you can tell right away that it was written purely to introduce Susan’s replacement. Though rushed and transparent, the storyline places Vicki front and centre and more-or-less sets her up to run away with the rest of the team.
The characterisation of the story is well-written and executed, but the plot seriously suffers for it. To sum it up it’s riddled with a ridiculously theatrical so-bad-its-good conflict, an entire subplot that was obviously inserted for the purposes of setting up a cliffhanger, and a seriously dodgy climax; it’s basically verging on pantomime.
But Vicki is great, and because of the way the story is structured you get a sense of her character right away. She comes across as young, bubbly, energetic and likeable, and she’s very much established as a strong member of the team. From a characterisation viewpoint, however, she’s basically the only one given a chance to shine – the rest of the team are clumsily swept out of the way and left to deal with the dodgy plot. See what I mean by ‘rushed’?
Is it worth your time? At only two episodes there’s not a huge amount to lose; and furthermore it really helps you get to know Vicki. And while the story definitely isn’t canon-bending, it’s not totally unbearable and has it’s exciting points. The key, however, is to enter with low expectations.
Vicki: What were the fashions like when you left London?
Barbara: Ah, you mean Londinium. When in Rome…
The four time travellers are enjoying a rare holiday, staying at a villa not far from Rome in the year 64 AD. The Doctor soon becomes restless, however, and sets off with Vicki to visit the city. In their absence, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped and sold off into slavery, and the Doctor finds himself impersonating a lute player.
Series two has a few highlights, and The Romans is definitely one of them. Serving as Doctor Who‘s first experiment with comedy-driven storylines, this serial feels like something out of the Pertwee era – and even though it’s style causes mixed opinions, especially at the time it aired, it’s generally regarded as a modern fan favourite. In essence, it grabbed the traditional purely historial format of the show at the time and spun it into something more interesting than it’s predcessors; while the likes of The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror attempted to deal with more meaty historical issues in a serious light, this pure historical is full of dark humour and centres around a giggling Nero and an annoying yet classically enjoyable plot.
In reality the themes of this story are as dark as ever – there’s people being sold into slavery, assassinations by other people with no tongues, gladiators lined up in a sudden-death fight in front of Nero, and the Emperor’s wife commissioning the “official royal poisoner” to prepare a “special drink” for one of our beloved crew members. But, as dark as all that may sound, this story is a hilarious must-watch that manages to be fun, deep and exciting all at the same time.
And I will just take a second to mention the absolutely breathtaking sets and costumes featured in this story – the attention to detail is amazing. Also, I want Barbara’s hair. But I always want her hair; as Russell T Davies once said: “there must have been an amazing hairdresser in the TARDIS”.
Is it worth your time? YES! Okay, you may hate it, but it is still absolutely worth a go – especially if you want to try something a bit different. Additionally, of the ten purely historical stories produced in the 1960s this is one of only three that survive in full, and that in itself makes it worth watching. That being said, if you’re looking for a pure historical and are yet to see The Aztecs, I would highly recommend it over The Romans.