Doctor Who – The Patrick Troughton Years

By 1966, Doctor Who was a well known program and drew millions of viewers on a regular basis. Its success seemed to be confirmed but behind the scenes, trouble loomed overheard. In 1965, the show went through a turbulent year with many rapid changes to the production team and a feeling of discontent permeated the team. Many in the team found it troublesome to work with the aging Hartnell and Hartnell himself found the heavy workload increasingly difficult to cope with. And so, in 1966, following the introduction of Shaun Sutton as the new Head of Serials at BBC, the cry for change was finally heard and it was decided that William Hartnell had to be let go. Unbeknown to everyone at the time, a change that stemmed from necessity would end up becoming the series’ biggest boon.

And so in October 29, 1966, the Doctor, weakened by his many recent brushes with death, collapsed on the floor of the TARDIS. In front of his new companions, Ben and Polly, and more than seven million viewers, the Doctor died… and was reborn. Looking rather like the actor Patrick Troughton.

Ben and Polly
Ben (Michael Craze), Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and Polly (Anneke Wills)

Although the Doctor’s change from Hartnell to Troughton was born out of necessity, it would none the less end up being one of the most important aspects of the character. An aspect that would allow them to change the Doctor’s actor and at the same time give the show the opportunity to go in new directions. Although called “renewal” at the time and attributed to the TARDIS itself, today we know the process as regeneration and it was the first real sign that the Doctor was much more than previously hinted at.

Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor, to me, is far more historically important than Hartnell’s time. Though they introduced a lot of aspects during Hartnell’s run, it was first now that the series really came into its own and truly separated itself from anything else at the time. Much of the Doctor’s mannerisms come from this era and fans of Matt Smith’s portrayal will find a lot to enjoy in Troughton’s portrayal. Wanting to differentiate himself of the grandfather image of Hartnell, Troughton’s Doctor was a quirky, giggling little mad man-child who traveled the universe looking for mischief to perpetrate. But underneath his childish behavior lurked a dark and dangerous cunning that thrived in conflict. And conflict would be the one thing the new Doctor found himself neck-deep in.

The new direction for the Doctor included a lot more running up and down hallways and exploding scenery became a regular occurrence. Where the frail Doctor of the past was forced to rely on his wits, Troughton’s Doctor is the first Doctor that can truly be dubbed the Running Doctor. But despite the switch to a more action-oriented nature, Troughton never once gives children reason to doubt that the Doctor is there for them. More than ever, the Doctor is there to guide the viewer through the show, telling us when it’s safe to breathe and when it’s time to be scared. Troughton is a great character actor and much of that ability comes from his very expressive face. While Hartnell’s expertise was in looking angry, Troughton had a much greater range of emotions at his command and when he was sad, you felt it all the way to the bones. Troughton’s Doctor is a much more inviting Doctor in this sense, giving the audience a much better pathway into the stories. No longer requiring companions to give us a human connection, the Doctor really swung to the forefront of the show.

Though some of that can be accredited to the writing, Troughton’s performance is probably the biggest reason the show ever survived. With him, the character evolved and grew, laying the foundation for future writers and actors to build upon. So much so that I don’t hesitate saying that this truly was the birth of the Doctor. And if not the birth then at least the formative years of his childhood. The decision to make the Doctor the leading man in all regards wouldn’t have been possible without someone like Patrick Troughton.

Patrick Troughton
Patrick Troughton (1920 – 1987)

By all accounts, Patrick Troughton was a joy to work with, serious when it was called for but quite the comedian at every opportunity. Most cast members left rather reluctantly, either forced out or because they felt let down by the writing, and Patrick Troughton took each departure very hard. And even Troughton apparently found it hard to stay positive through the problems the show faced. This, coupled with a fear of being typecast and a far too heavy workload, eventually lead to Troughton’s decision to leave the show. By all accounts, his decision to leave was not a decision he took lightly. He reigned as the Doctor Supreme for three years, ushering the show from a popular one to a legendary one.

We miss you, Patrick. Doctor Who REALLY wouldn’t be what it is today without you.

Reigning side by side with Troughton was his many companions, five in total. Ben and Polly, played by Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, carried over from Hartnell’s time on the show but they were soon joined by a third companion. A Highlander from 18th century by the name of Jamie McCrimmon played by Frazer Hines. And if there’s one thing the behind the camera talk reveals it’s that Hines and Troughton were not just best friends in front of the camera but also behind it. Hines would stay on from his introduction to the end of Troughton’s era and the duo left together. Jamie is today the companion with the most episodes to his name to this day except for Sarah Jane Smith if you count her own spin-off and various other appearances.

DoctorWhoJamieMcCrimmon
Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines)

Jamie McCrimmon was intended as the audience surrogate, asking all the daft questions when the Doctor (and his future companions) went on like everybody knew the answers already. He was also a bit hotheaded, quick to resort to violence to solve all problems. He also stayed on for considerably longer than any companion up to this point and so the relationship between him and the Doctor was truly new at the time, at least for this series. He outgrew his role as a companion and became the first the Doctor could truly call friend and confidant. As the seasons progressed, they became more in tune with each other. His eventual departure in Troughton’s finale was a truly heartbreaking moment for many reasons.

Jamie was never intended as a companion, even less as a replacement, but during the airing of six part serial “The Highlanders”, audience reception of the character was so overwhelmingly positive that Frazer Hines was offered a recurring role. And although the surviving cast members speak of no ill blood, there was a feeling that Ben and Jamie competed for the same role, that of the dashing, young, handsome action hero. So the decision to let Michael Craze go was made and Anneke Wills, in a show of solidarity, decided to leave together with Michael despite being offered to stay on.

Their final serial was the “Faceless Ones” which saw them written out unceremoniously. And to be fair, except for being written out so stupendously poorly, the decision to let them go was the right one. They never quite worked with Hartnell and they felt even more out of place with Troughton, especially with the introduction of Jamie. Sadly, Polly’s replacement Victoria was not much better. If there was ever a useless female companion in Doctor Who, I am yet to see her. Coming from the past, much like Jamie, she was a high society girl who lost everything to the Daleks and opted to travel with the Doctor and Jamie because she didn’t have anyone else to rely on.

At least her ineffective nature comes with a good explanation, being a classy lady from the era where she came from, it’s not really a surprise that she doesn’t know how to conduct herself in dangerous situations. Despite that, her screaming quickly becomes obnoxious and despite being in seven serials, she never catches up to the Doctor and Jamie in terms of character. And eventually the actress playing Victoria, Deborah Watling, felt this too and chose to leave the show, feeling she wasn’t given enough room to act. Despite that, Victoria leaves a mark on the show, perhaps not so much for her character as for appearing in a number of great classics such “Abominable Snowmen”, “Web of Fear”, her finale “Fury from the Deep” and long time fan-favorite “Tomb of the Cybermen”.

Doctor Who: Zoe HeriotHer replacement came in the very next serial “The Wheel in Space” which saw the Doctor yet again face off against the Cybermen. Here they run into the young Zoe Heriot, a genius who’s been taught all the greatest things in life except how to live, as it were. Helping the Doctor defeat the Cybermen once again gives her a taste for adventure and she decides to travel with the Doctor. She was the last of the Second Doctor’s companions as she lasted the remaining eight serials.

Intended not just as a damsel in distress, Zoe was portrayed as a smart young lady with knowledge rivaling that of the Doctor. Thanks to this she ended up becoming much more of a boon to the Doctor and Jamie than any previous female companion. This was, of course, intentional as the idea was to give little girls a positive character to look up to and draw them into the show. Although she still has a nasty tendency to get captured, it was done in a much more reasonable way and even in her captive state she didn’t break down and start calling for the Doctor to save her, rather trying to make her own escape.

Sadly Wendy Padbury’s Zoe didn’t have a too interesting run in terms of stories. In fact, one could say that outside of her first appearance, “Wheel in Space”, and her last, the Second Doctor’s finale “War Games”, she only had one story of interest which is “The Invasion”, yet another Cybermen story. If you think I’ve been mentioning the Cybermen a lot there’s a reason for that other than thematic. The last monsters the First Doctor faced, they ended up becoming a staple of Troughton’s era due to behind the scenes reason. Terry Nation, the man who came up with the idea of the Daleks, had retained the rights to the Daleks who were only intended as a one-off at the time of conception. So every time Doctor Who featured the Daleks, Terry Nation took a cut of the profits.

It was then decided to write the Daleks out in order to save money and Terry Nation wanted to go to America and try to create a series about the Daleks themselves so the decision to write them out was not one he opposed. Instead the Cybermen were intended to take their place as recurring villains and recur they did. Following “The Evil of Daleks”, the Daleks were effectively destroyed from within and assumed gone forever. And though it might not seem a lot today, they were gone from the series for a whole five years. And in the very next serial, “Tomb of the Cybermen”, their replacements took to the screen with great effect.

Doctor Who The Invasion
One of the most iconic scenes from “The Invasion”

Troughton had the pleasure to star opposite these new menaces in four different serials, two of which can be counted as some of the best Cybermen stories to date: “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “The Invasion”. “Tomb of the Cyberman” saw the Doctor caught in a Cyberman trap centuries in the making and began to flesh out the monsters as villains. Not only did their appearance change but so did their motives and their society, as it were, began to take form around them. “The Invasion” saw yet another redesign of the today iconic villains and the Cybermen finally took to the streets of London in a bid to conquer the Earth.

Other appearances include “Wheel in Space” and “The Moonbase” though in my humble opinion, they’re not quite as great as the previous two mentioned. But Troughton had plenty of other great serials to his run, though sadly many of his episodes are missing so some of their intended greatness is lost.

One memorable monster to appear in this era was the snowmen or yeti, robotic creatures controlled by the Great Intelligence. Appearing not once but twice, they’re more effective in their second appearance, “The Web of Fear”, invading the London Underground in a direct sequel seeing the return of some characters from “The Abominable Snowmen”. Not only good in its own rights, it also saw the first appearance of Colonel Lethbridge Stewart, later Brigadier, who would go on to be a recurring character for many years to come as head of UNIT. But much more on that when the time comes for the Third Doctor.

Another monster that would end up being featured throughout the years that first showed up here is the Ice Warriors who starred in two serials.

But despite all the classic monsters that showed up in this era, my favorite serials were neither of the already mentioned ones. Well, that’s not true, I mentioned one of them above when talking about Victoria, namely “Fury from the Deep”. Here the Doctor battled a creature from the bottom of the sea lured up by drilling off the coast of England. It’s not necessarily the seaweed monster that I found exciting but rather everything going on around it and the mayhem it causes. It’s one of the few Doctor Who stories that doesn’t just feel like it’s a lazy excuse for the Doctor to run down hallways but rather an actual, tangible threat to the safety of the world.

My second favorite is the recently found “Enemy of the World” in which Patrick Troughton takes up double roles and does so amazingly well. Sure, his accent as the evil Salamander isn’t necessarily all that good but the plot they weave with this simple setup turns out to be something interesting after all. It’s mostly the acting of Troughton that sells this serial and immediate proof how good of an actor he truly is.

But Troughton’s era was not one of just roses. While Troughton has the privilege of starring in some of the best serials, he also has the distinct pleasure of starring in some of the worst. Although the Ice Warriors were introduced here, I cared very little for either serial. Things like “The Krotons”, “Space Pirates” and “The Macra Terror” rank extremely low in my opinion. And let’s not forget “The Dominators”, one of the most loathed serials in Doctor Who history.

Doctor Who: The Dominators
Toba (Kenneth Ives) and Rago (Ronald Allen)

However, I actually don’t dislike this story as much as some people. Yes, it’s still awful but I actually think the main villains, the Dominators Rago and Toba, work extremely well. Ronald Allen’s Rago is a joy to see and the two different styles of power the two exert, Toba a more outright brutal style while Rago is more cunning and clever with his power.

Unfortunately, brilliant acting won’t save the fact that the plot is horrendous and slow, the Dominator’s pet robots, the Quarks, are cardboard boxes with stubby legs and arms and a ball for a head. Oh, and an awful voice. Just awful. And they keep running out of batteries. And they’re easily defeated by pushing them over. And they move at five miles per hour or something… max. Simply put, they’re awful.

Another thing that separates Troughton’s time from Hartnell’s time is that there was only one historical episode before that concept was scrapped. The format never caught the attention of children as much as the sci-fi stories and the production crew wanted to ground the Doctor more on Earth to give people a stronger frame of reference. “The Highlanders” early in season four would be the last historical story for a very long time and even when they did return it was more often than not with some kind of sci-fi twist to it.

Patrick Troughton’s last serial hit the screen April 19 and lasted until June 21. Titled “The War Games” it would end up revealing much about the Doctor that we today take for granted and future series would truly start to dig into the Doctor’s past. The concept of Time Lord was first introduced here and the viewers got their first glimpse of the Doctor’s homeplanet. Going out with a bang, “The War Games” is actually one of the best stories to Troughton’s name, deceptively good as it, despite being ten episodes long, keeps you guessing until the very end.

Doctor Who: War Games

Troughton’s voice echos as he slowly disappears into the credits and we say goodbye not just to Troughton but to Hines and Padbury as well. For the next year’s Doctor, the production team wanted to go in a new direction. This era was no less complicated and the production crew suffered many setbacks that they had to solve on the fly. Writers buckled under the pressure and the actors were worked to the bones. Excellent stories hand off to absolutely wretched ones on a regular basis and the series suffered for it. So much so that a major change was the only thing that could save the show.

Times were changing and Doctor Who would push on, blazing new trails where ever it went.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to Troughton, though. In him I see the grandfather of the modern Doctor Who, a completely different take on the character established by William Hartnell and one the series never would’ve survived without. He was a Doctor you could both laugh with and hide behind, he was a friend and a guardian. It was here that the Doctor himself was established firmly as a character that could take the weight of being in the center of attention and not just a guide for younger audience. History was made here in more ways than one.

Sadly it will be a while before I return to Doctor Who. I have decided to take a break so I don’t wear myself out on the show too soon. I will return, though, my goal is to see all of Doctor Who eventually but it’s not like the show is going anywhere soon.

The Second Doctor by Andy LambertSecond Doctor (Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969)

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