Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Patrick Troughton

Patrick Troughton

Ah, Patrick Troughton. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- it will take something pretty spectacular to unseat him as my favorite Doctor. He is funny, with an elastic face and a slightly manic manner, great comic timing and a talent for impersonations. He introduces the sonic screwdriver. He always has a plan, and half the time it fails completely. He is parental and caring, willing to self-sacrifice, for his companions. He isn’t afraid to get into the action himself. And he quickly unseated Hartnell as my new favorite. A fair-weather fan, I, falling for the charms of whichever Doctor is on my screen? I think not- this fellow will be hard to top. (Note from Andrew, 2012: Indeed, in viewing all the way up through the 22nd year and the 6th Doctor, Troughton has not been topped by the Old Series or the New.)

William Hartnell said that there was only one man he’d trust to take over the role, and I heartily agree with him. Patrick Troughton  is practically the template for everything the Doctor’s become, and definitely the inspiration for the current showrunner, Matt Smith… as well as for Fifth Doctor Peter Davison and Sixth Doctor Colin Baker. He may not have any particular super-powers like Hartnell did- he doesn’t master hypnosis, do vocal impressions, or possess a signet ring… he only shows us a hint of the depth of powers he may possess at the end, assembling his hypercube, and his only ability may well be playing the recorder.

But he is friendly and disarming, yet clever and wily. He left generously, not under a grudging and denying note (despite the character’s protestations), but on a generously accepting note, paving the way for audience acceptance of his successor. He left as he arrived- with humor. My heart is buoyed knowing we shall see him again thrice in specials- to quote David Tennat, the 10th Doctor, “You know what, Doctor? You were my Doctor.” And so, I suspect, you will remain, even after I’ve seen all 11. Or 12. Or ever.

Patrick Troughton, you are the best.

“You can’t kill me- I’m a genius!”

My Top 10 Favorite Second Doctor Moments

10. Naming and playing with ‘Alpha,’ ‘Beeta,’ and ‘Omeega’/Confronting the Dalek Emperor/Declaring the Daleks’ "Final End" (Evil of the Daleks):
All fantastic moments, but all too brief. The Doctor being delighted with Daleks, for once? Having a showdown with an imensly powerful enemy on the Dalek homeworld? Pronouncing final sentence on his greatest foes- their epitaph? How does one choose? I think, if pressed, I would have to go with Alpha, Beeta, and Omeega- and not just from the endless source of bafflement and bemusement that his odd pronunciations elicits.  Whereas the First Doctor’s favored moments for me came from the times when he won the day, had the upper hand, took charge, became the hero the Doctor would eventually be… the Second Doctor is always at his best in my book when he is funny, happy, whimsical, warm, friendly, loving… humanized- (though not human, heaven forbid- don’t string me up, Enemy Within-haters! He isn’t half human! I know!) a different aspect of the Doctor brought to the fore. And in this case, a simple moment of child-like playtime with three members of his greatest race of foes, in turn humanizing them, and seeing the potential for a race of monsters to be truly reformed, the Doctor ceases to be the day-saver, plotter, and schemer for a moment, and simply enjoys his life for a change- something haunted 9th would seldom do (except when “Everybody lives!”) and gloomy, depressed 10th started off doing, but quickly forgot how to do as a mopey, dark, brooding character. And something that every Doctor needs to be able to do, I think, lest the audience get lost in the darkness of the void through which his eternal quest reaches…

9. “Lesterson, listen…” (Power of the Daleks):
While post-regenerative madness wouldn’t hit in full comedic force until the Third Doctor in Spearhead From Space, the Second Doctor still spends much of his first serial in an off-kilter precursor that seems to be practically the inspiration for Matt Smith’s ongoing performance of the 11th Doctor. For much of the time, he simply seems out-of-it, but this moment of slightly-giddy, self-amused repetition- trying to get Lesterson’s attention and then repeating the phrase over and over to himself, to his great amusement, really started to sell the character for me, and was the first glimpse of the ‘funny’ Doctor we were soon to receive.

8. Playing dumb (The Dominators):
It’s a simple bit- believing all inhabitants of the planet they’re conquering to be foolish, idiotic sheep (and rightly so, as it turns out), the haughty Dominators capture Jamie and the Doctor as specimens for testing, to determine their true intelligence level. In order to get them to underestimate him, the Doctor plays along- taking the torments like a confused child, helplessly throwing up his hands and expressing panicked bewilderment at the slightest challenge, even willingly submitting himself to electric shocks to accomplish the ruse, with quite enjoyable results. (Honorable almost-mention – The scene of the Doctor breaking through the tunnel wall into the shaft leading to the planet’s core and catching the bomb as it’s dropped down the shaft at the last minute would definitely make this list… if the cheap so-and-sos that ran the show hadn’t had the whole thing occur off-screen!!!)

7. Treating the symptoms (Highlanders):
The Highlanders, Troughton’s second serial, was a sterling showcase for his comedic talents, offering the Doctor the chance for multiple impersonations, impressions, and comedic bits. Perhaps the best was his German physician, who played on the hypochondria of his captors to convince them they were sick and then crafted all manner of outlandish treatments to incapacitate and disable them, much in the manner of Bugs Bunny. From his insistence that his patient had eye problems, and the sound of a superior (locked in the closet) shouting for help was “All in your head… in your eyes!” to his convincing a lackey that the proper treatment consisted of slamming the man’s head against a desk until he passed out, this was a brilliant comedy sequence that transcended even the reconstruction stills that contained it.

6. Putting Jamie’s face on wrong – (The Mind Robbers):
In the surreal Mind Robbers, surrounded by dozens of great Second Doctor moments, mostly revolving around belief and disbelief (see my review for a full accounting, or, better yet, go watch the serial!), Troughton faces one of the strangest actor-absence plot-points ever devised- Jamie is shot in the forehead by a redcoat and turns into a cardboard cutout, and then his face disappears, replaced by a blank white space- while a pasteboard with a series of mouths, noses, and eyes appears beside it. Responding to this apparent cruel-sense-of-humor-whim on the part of the Master of the Land of Fiction, the Doctor obligingly picks out Jamie’s facial elements and re-applies them… only he gets it wrong, much to his outspoken dismay… and Jamie is played by another actor for an episode (with an uncanny and dead-on impersonation!). Finally, Jamie is shot in the head again (one fears for his long-term odds of survival after his return into history in The War Games), and the scenario repeats itself, this time with Zoe there to guide the Doctor through. After several corrections to his initial choices, Zoe indignantly realizes that the Doctor had done this before, and gotten it wrong. His embarrassed, chagrined shushing is worth the price of admission by itself in what’s already a fantastic serial.

5. Trial (The War Games):
Caught and tried by his people for breaking their noninterference laws, the Doctor gives a passionate defense of his actions, giving a speech about how evil exists in the galaxy, showing and summarizing some of his most notable foes (plus the non-starter Quarks) and pleading for his fate- and then, once sentenced, facing alternating panic at being stuck on Earth and being forcibly regenerated, relief over being able to choose his appearance, annoyance and disgust with the presented choices, and indignant denial as he is finally sent to Series 6B… errrrr… his regeneration… a very strong set of scenes to close out Troughton’s run on the Doctor.

4. “No Victoria, don’t hit me!” (Enemy of the World):
The title practically speaks for itself. In this doubles episode in which Troughton plays the dual roles of hero and villain (The Doctor and the treacherous Salamander), numerous cases of mistaken identity abound. Towards the end, the Doctor impersonates Salamander interrogating Victoria, apparently for a bit of fun- but his sinister façade breaks into the titular cry and a cowardly cringe when Victoria’s ire is raised and she moves towards him threateningly, revealing the true Doctor within. (Honorable mention to the excellent final sequence in which Salamander gets aboard the TARDIS while impersonating the Doctor, the two confront each other, and the climactic final battle- all excellent sequences!)

3. “I was bored.” (The War Games):
In Troughton’s final serial, we received many revelations- the name and nature of his people, the fact that he had stolen the TARDIS, and his motivation for traveling around time and space: boredom. It’s such an off-handed and Doctorish comment that you almost miss the character implications in the humor of the moment. Here, we get an insight into the man we’ve been watching for the last six years- he is a restless wanderer, an explorer at heart, traveling to see the wonders of the galaxy; and also a man of conscience- reading between the lines, it was his people’s policy of non-interference that chafed on him, not a prohibition against travel; the Doctor says it himself later in the serial- There is evil to be opposed in the universe, and someone has to do it. The Doctor could not just sit idly still, watching from a position of great power while tragedy befell those whom his people considered “lesser races” (reminiscent of the Ancients from Stargate SG1)- instead, he had to steal a ship, become a fugitive, give up his home and the incredible powers the Time Lords are shown to exercise, all for the sake of being able to interfere, to help people. And yet he doesn’t seek acknowledgement or recognition- he tries to mask over his noble self-sacrifice with an indifferent “I was bored,” leaving the true implications of his statement to remain unstated.

2. Run to the rescue (Seeds of Death):
A good old fashioned Doctor-to-the-rescue moment, the Doctor realizes, in conversation with the program director, that Jamie and Zoe are missing- and likely headed to the last location that an Ice Warrior was spotted. He takes off running through toxic foam and various obstacles to reach them. While far more a visual moment and difficult to describe here, it’s a real action hero moment for the Doctor- followed by a near-death desperate encounter in the foam, a slapstick chase, and a total Schwarzenegger action sequence with his solar hand-cannons. It’s really a great ‘action’ sequence for the Doctor, and it involves the now legendary element of the Doctor Who mythos so integral to everything: running. “When I say run… run!”

1. Taking the test (The Krotons):
When brilliant-but-naïve Zoe dons a teaching headset on a whim to test her intelligence, and scores highly (qualifying her for a quick death at the hands of the Krotons, to be called into the dark portal of their sinister spaceship as a sort of sacrifice), the Doctor doesn’t even hesitate, immediately donning a headset himself to score highly and follow her in. While the following scene- in which he overthinks things, gets stressed out, and makes mistakes that flunk him the first time around before successfully testing the second time- is funny, the core of this scene is Troughton’s caring, almost parental willingness to sacrifice himself so that Zoe will not have to face her trials alone. He doesn’t blink, doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t have to take a moment to decide- he just acts, immediately, with no question in his mind. This was the moment that made me ‘fall in love’ with this Doctor, a man who cared for his companions like they were his children.

Also, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make my top 10 list, but I feel are worthy of notation for their distinctiveness:
Passing the test (at the last minute!) from the Ice warriors. The old woman impersonation and various hilarious others in The Highlanders. The alley run from The Invasion. The exercise machine from the Macra Terror (During the ‘Merry old Land of Oz’ makeover sequence, when the Doctor is displeased with how clean and pressed his clothes appear, and leaps into the exercise machine under its owner’s protests to rumple them up). And the whimsical slapstick ‘heist’ abduction and marketplace antics from The Underwater Menace.

So, this is it. The end of an era. Before we go on, I’m going to take a look back at the Black & White series, the era that we’re leaving behind.

It was evenly split between two Doctors- one stern and gruff, the other friendly and goofy- the patriarch and the comedian. We started with suspicions and mistrust, then forged a family- all whilst meeting most of the classic monsters that we know and love today, and struggling to find it’s footing, niche, length, and pacing. Then, the cast changed; the Doctor was rehabilitating a hurting man, helping his two companions to grow to maturity in a grandfatherly mentor role. But soon, both left, and the Doctor tried to get hip with Ben and Polly. Sadly, due to the failing health of William Hartnell, the next change was to the Doctor, not the companions. In a unique and relatively unheard-of maneuver, the main character changed roles whilst remaining the same character, with an in-story explanation. And soon, he gained his own companions- a group of impetuous youngsters in need of a more fatherly guidance, as the Doctor bumbled and stumbled his way through dozens of menacing situations, but always came out on top.

Things tended to look cheaper, simpler, more studio-bound (and often they were), yet this lent a more stylized, more easily accepted fantasy aspect to the show. Effects either looked really hokey, or ultra-slick (like the void sequences in The Mind Robbers). We had only one take available during filming, so performances were rougher, editing was simpler, there were less cuts, less stunts, and less practical effects. Actors often got clumsily written-out for a serial (occasionally a blessing) when they went on vacation (errrr… ‘holiday’) or were sick. 'Future' costumes were often laughable. Companions tended to be 2-3, a male-female mixture, whereas later series trended towards a single female companion. The dynamic was more like a family, and the Doctor was often mysterious and uncommunicative. Aliens were more commonly monsters (with a few exceptions) to be destroyed instead of antagonists to be negotiated with while possessing their own unique point of view. This was the only period with historical, pure educational adventures. It has a charm to it- occasionally a chuckle-able “How quaint!” laugh at the naiveté, but more often a genuine charm and style all of its own.

Even through the course of 6 years (for perspective, almost as long as each of the three long-running Star Trek series ran), you can see major changes in production quality- not only from An Unearthly Child to The War Games, but even from Series 1 to Series 2, and at intervals between. Though the show changed concepts (abandoning the alternating sci-fi/historical and educational concepts, for one thing) and character/theme focuses several times, it always remained true to its concept- something which is about to undergo radical changes in the series to come- and even though far, FAR too much of this era is lost to the ravages of missing episodes and reconstructions, it was an entertaining and rewarding ride. Sometimes it was a slog, but more often, it was a unique insight into the show’s history and a set of stories to be enjoyed on their own merit and qualities, and not as some artifacts of a bygone age. Make no mistake, this was truly a period of classics. In fact, to close out, let me share with you my favorites of this black and white era…

Top 10 BWW Serials
10. Enemy of the World – A brilliant dual performance with a stunning climax, despite being a reconstruction, this is a highlight of the Second Doctor era.
9. The Aztecs – Barbara’s breakout serial, it has a strong story and a great little subplot for the Doctor.
8. The Space Museum – A dull latter half puts this one so low on the list, but a brilliant and spellbinding first episode puts this one on the map as fantastic. Very eerie and cool.
7. The Myth Makers – This is, perhaps, the funniest Doctor Who serial ever written, even in bare-minimum-pictures reconstruction mode.
6. The Rescue – A nice short-and-sweet story that introduces the sweet and innocent Vicki and features a brilliantly cinematographed and well-written climax that is nothing short of epic!
5. Celestial Toymaker – Surreal and unusual, not just a battle of wits, but a series of them- this unique story with a strong villain deserves better than the reconstruction that it has.
4. Keys of Marinus – A brilliant anthology of short-stories with a framing device, this video-game-esque set of quest stories are fast-paced, full of variety, entertaining, sometimes unintentionally funny, and in the case of the jungle, spine-tingling and scary. The first truly stellar serial of Doctor Who.
3. Faceless Ones – What makes this relatively sedate airport-based mystery so memorable, especially when most of it is reconstructed? The great villain effects? The mystery? The characters who make real growth and react reasonably instead of like two-dimensional stock characters? The fact that the story doesn’t spin it’s wheels and re-hash the same developments over and over until the final episode, but keeps moving forward, allowing the Doctor to get proof, gain allies, make discoveries, etc., keeping up a steady sense of momentum? It’s the kind of run-around and try to figure things out move-and-counter-move story I usually detest, but it’s so well-written and well-paced that it never loses energy or interest, and all of the characters feel real, not like video game characters programmed in with 2 or 3 stock responses to any and all actions you might take. No one’s unreasonable, no one’s unyielding in the face of evidence, and everything flows. It’s fantastic!
2. Daleks Master Plan – A true epic in every sense of the word, this one has it all- Daleks, aliens, the Monk (yay!), a volcanic planet, a prison world, the first companion deaths, ancient Egyptians vs. Daleks, invisible monsters, ship thefts, the Doctor in disguise, personal force fields, Varga plants, Doctor/Dalek standoffs, a 4th-wall-breaking Christmas special, and more! It’s more reconstruction than video, sadly, but still eminently watchable, and as a 12-part epic, it doesn’t flag, drag, or snag- it keeps moving and packs every episode brilliantly!
1. The Mind Robber – Surreal and scary, funny and clever, a masterpiece of mood (seriously, if you made me write this blog without using the words “Moody,” “Atmospheric,” “Fantastic,” or “Brilliant,” it’d probably fall apart overnight), filled with excellent concepts, exciting set-pieces, great showdowns, wonderful humor, fake-Jamie, and just all-around weirdness and awesomeness… plus that first episode’s psychotically scary and bizarre moments in the white and black voids, and that volcano opening- this is one NOT to miss!

This list was almost impossible to narrow down to 10. Here are some very close honorable mentions- unfortunately, most seem to be the Second Doctor’s, suggesting that while I prefer him as a Doctor, Hartnell had the superior scripts:
Fury from the Deep – If it wasn’t a reconstruction, it might bump something else off!
The Invasion – Great villain, just a little bit slow to make the top 10.
Seeds of Death – This was closest to staying on the list; it’s really fantastic, but the middle drags just a tad. Still, that ending…!
Highlanders – A decent story with some fantastic performances and a comedic showcase for the Doctor... rendered snooze-worthy by being a reconstruction. If Troughton’s hilarious impressions were in video, this might just top the list!
Tomb of the Cybermen – It was really solid. Great serial. The others just had an extra zing to put them over the top that this didn’t, for me.
Evil of the Daleks - The first half drags a bit for me, but this one is truly epic, filled with fantastic concepts, characters, and confrontations!
The Web Planet – In a so-bad-it’s-good way, it’s hilarious to watch in its awfulness. Top 10 most entertaining list? Yes. Top 10 best list? Not a chance.
The Time Meddler – A great ending, and a great foil- if he and the Doctor had more screen time together, this would be a top 10. As it is, that’s one of the reasons that Dalek Master Plan is, instead.
The Chase – The Chase has its moments (see that blog) and a greatly fun concept, but it lags and is sort of unfocused. Still highly recommended!

...As is the entire 60s monochrome era... do yourself a favor and go check it out!