Dec 27 2010 1:00pm

The Mystery of the Cosmic Hobo (or, Bow Ties Are Cool!)

This is a post in the Twelve Doctors of Christmas series. Click the link to peruse the entire series.

The Second Doctor Patrick TroughtonIn 1974, my mother handed me a book saying, “I thought you’d like to try one of the old ones.” The book was called Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, and it had the single greatest cover I’d ever seen in my young life. Against the backdrop of planet Earth, a giant, weird furry creature with fangs and eerily glowing green eyes menaced a young woman and man in a kilt. Over this was superimposed a black-and-white portrait of the Second Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton. I knew he was the Second Doctor because I’d seen him on TV about a year previously, when he and the First Doctor had returned to help the Third Doctor out in the tenth anniversary story “The Three Doctors.” I’d really liked him then—he was kind, funny and sharp, a little man with an expressive face dressed in baggy, clownish clothes. There was something of the naughty schoolboy about him that I could relate to—he was a misfit whose charm hinted at great wisdom. He listened, but you wanted and waited to know what he had to say.

I grew up in the U.K. and in those days, when the BBC operated a policy of one-time only broadcasts for most of their shows, the only way of reliving old Doctor Who stories was through the novelizations published by Target Books. To fans of my generation, this made Doctor Who both a literary and televisual phenomenon: I collected and consumed these slim little volumes, reading them over and over again. The Abominable Snowmen was the first of the Second Doctor stories to be published and I adored it. In my mind’s eye, it became a cinematic experience, a snowbound alien invasion action adventure that took place in the unlikely setting of the Himalayas. At the center of it was the Second Doctor, the improbable, Chaplinesque hero, a little man who saved the day by encouraging his companions to think, not just fight.

The Second Doctor also had a faintly Machiavellian side. He kept both enemies and allies off-balance by pretending to be daft, deliberately leading them to underestimate his abilities. It was sleight-of-hand behavior that disguised an analytical yet ultimately humane persona, all in the service of defeating “things which act against everything we believe in.” By modern terms, he was an enabler, indirect in his methods but not in a manipulative way—not all the time, anyway. He listened to all the good ideas around him and by chivvying and encouraging the oppressed peoples that he encountered, he mobilized them into defeating evil. He was not a leader exactly, more a catalyst for good and Troughton was superb at conveying these different aspects to the character, by turns befuddled, beguiling and brilliant.

Like I said, when I was a kid in the U.K., if you missed an episode of your favorite TV show, that was it—shows weren’t rerun in syndication. Episodes vanished forever into the void, never to be seen again. In the case of Troughton’s Doctor, this was especially true as, shortly after broadcast, the BBC unceremoniously wiped a large number of his episodes. Why? They reckon they didn’t have the space to store them, they had no archival policy and besides, the master videotapes were expensive and could be used again.

Doctor Who and the Subway of Evil by Nick AbadzisWhile this sounds like an act of cultural vandalism, it was common practice for TV stations around the world. Fortunately, over the years various overseas channels that bought Doctor Who have returned copies of some stories to BBC vaults. That’s why we’re able to see classics like “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” It’s sad though that serials like “The Web of Fear” (the sequel to the “Abominable Snowmen” episode), “The Evil of the Daleks,” and “Fury From the Deep” are, bar the odd episode, gone. There are excellent fan reconstructions from off-air audio soundtrack recordings, telesnaps, and other photographic material but it’s not quite the same as viewing original TV episodes. In a weird way though, not having those stories adds to the mystery of the Second Doctor, for whom I never lost my fascination and affection. I can always have a widescreen version of his adventures when I read those old Target Books.

The Second Doctor was magnificent. Echoes of his captivating manner can be found in current TARDIS incumbent Matt Smith’s splendid performance—and in Smith’s costume too—note the bow tie. “Bow ties are cool.” Troughton’s performance revitalized the show, his era pioneering so much that we take for granted about it these days—bases under siege, Time Lords, regeneration. Indeed, if Troughton’s incarnation hadn’t been successful, there’d be no Doctor Who today. We owe it to him for making it all work so superbly. Treasure and delight in the cosmic hobo.

Nick Abadzis won an Eisner Award for Best Teen Graphic Novel in 2008 with his work Laika, a story about the Russian puppy who ended up becoming the world’s first space traveler. He has an extensive bibliography of comic strips, graphic novels, and children’s books, and is a big fan of the Doctor Who. (Keep an eye on his post for a special visual treat!)

Rob Hansen
1. RobHansen
It's a real shame so much of the Troughton era no longer exists. I have particularly fond memories of the two Yeti stories, and only a single episode of each survives. Yetis on the London Underground sounds like a daft idea but it really worked. At least we have his epic final story, "The War Games" which I watched recently and which really stands up, IMO.
Alex Brown
2. AlexBrown
As an archivist in training myself, I was horrified when I heard that BBC taped over their own fucking shows because they hadn't bothered to set up a fucking archival policy. It makes my heart hurt. But good news is that with there being so much demand for Who they'll be more inclined to get the rest of their catalogue finally put on DVD and released in at least Region 1 and 2. It's not cheap to convert everything - plus there's all that messy licensing and copyright nonsense - but they'll have a willing market waiting with open maws.
Joe Hagan
3. Mercwrought
Having grown up initially on the 4th doctor when PBS began airing what they had of the 2nd and then third I was initially taken back here was this almost childish person playing a part that for me Baker made sacred. It only took two or three episodes to figure out I was wrong. Troughton’s light heartedness and ability to pretend to be less than he was gave the doctor unmanageable depth. The second doctor became one of my favorites.
Chris Greenland
5. greenland
Oh my god, Nick, please write/draw the entirety of that SUBWAY OF EVIL adventure. I will be first in line to buy it.
Sarah Hale
6. rocketshale
Terrific article. I always enjoyed the Second Doctor when our PBS station showed what episodes they had. I remember thinking it was unfair when Zoe and Jamie had most of their memories of their time with the Doctor erased prior to his regeneration. Troughton’s Doctor was a fantastic character, and I keep hoping that somewhere more footage will turn up.
Until then, I'm off to hunt some books.
Paul Weimer
7. PrinceJvstin
I came across the second doctor because the local PBS station moved on from 4th and 5th doctor episodes, and started from the beginning with Hartnell, and played the one Troughton they had (The Dominators). I liked it, and wanted more...but there was no more to be had.

It waited until the DVD era for me to see Tomb of the Cybermen, The Mind Robber, Seeds of Death, and The War Games.
Teresa Jusino
8. TeresaJusino
It IS a shame that so many of Patrick Troughton's episodes are gone. But I absolutely love, love, LOVE animated reconstructions. I thought they did a great job on The Invasion. I enjoyed seeing the story that way, and thought they managed to blend the animated episodes in with the remaining live-action episodes really well!
Harry Payne
9. ceebee_eebee
I only started watching Who in 2005, so I suppose you could say that Nine is "My Doctor." But the truth is, Two will always be mine. Having fallen so deeply in love with the concept of Who, and knowing that there was this incredibly long and rich history, I had to go back and see where it all began. I fell in love with the Second Doctor instantly. He's the quintessential Doctor for me and I see bits of him in every subsequent incarnation. The best bits. As much as I adore Hartnell and his era, and respect everything he did to create this amazing character that has been so beloved for half a century, my heart will always belong to Troughton's Doctor.
Harry Payne
10. JDK
I think your comment "I can always have a widescreen version of his adventures when I read those old Target Books." truly hits home for me. I grew up in Switzerland and never had the chance to view any of the old Doctor Who shows. I grew up with the books, reading them over and over again. The adventures were never more alive than when I was reading them. Today I am enjoying the revival of Doctor Who on TV, but those old stories will always be a part of me. I devoured them all and I remember
Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen well (and yes, I still have the books in storage in my basement if I ever want to re-read them).
Nick Abadzis
12. Nick_Abadzis
Thanks for the kind and interested comments, folks. Hope to be stimulating your thoughts further with regular posts here on
@JDK - I grew up in Switzerland too in the late seventies and early eighties and relatives sent me the Target paperbacks from home. So although Tom Baker was 'my' Doctor (I'd seen his first three seasons) I experienced the latter part of his era via the books. So I know just how you feel. My Target collection currently also resides in a well-guarded and water resistant containment facility.
Harry Payne
13. Gavin Burrows
Not only was I something of a Target book obsessive as a lad, the very first one I ever read was The Abominable Snowmen! I think I could have written almost the whole of this post myself, were I erudite enough...

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment