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Classic Doctor Who: The Second Doctor’s Essential Episodes

Last time, in discussing William Hartnell’s first fusspot Doctor, I mentioned that some 106 Doctor Who episodes are currently missing, following the tragic destruction and/or recycling of the master tapes on which they were recorded. (Damn you, BBC Archivists of the 60s and 70s!) Of these missing episodes, a disproportionate number belong to the era of the Second Doctor, which means that the recommendations made herein should be taken on the understanding that these are merely the best of what is available, rather than the best of what was produced.

While the First Doctor’s tenure might be lacking 6 complete serials to the Second Doctor’s 4, the lost episode tallies number 44 versus 62, and the fact that the latter has 15 incomplete serials out of his 21 total means that in real terms, we only have 6 full stories on which to evaluate his contributions to the Whoniverse, and only a few others that are even close to complete. Additionally, with so many of these missing from the Second Doctor’s first season at the helm—perhaps no more potent argument can be made for the notion that foreign broadcasters did not entirely approve of the casting change—it is difficult to give a full understanding of the evolution of his personality and relationships with his companions.

The Underwater Menace sees the Doctor and co. held prisoner on the sunken Atlantis, and what we have it is pretty great, but with bookending episodes 1 and 4 missing, can I really recommend the middle of a story as “essential”? The Wheel in Space introduces the kickass Zoe to the TARDIS, but with 5 of its 6 episodes missing, it’s hard to recommend it over those I have listed below; ditto, The Evil of the Daleks, the script of which suggests it would have been pretty freaking awesome, actually—if only we had more than 1/7 of it still existing, on which to judge for ourselves.

So the Top 5 “Essentials” of the Second Doctor’s sovereignty pretty much amounts to leaving out only a couple of the outings (mostly) remaining to us.

Without further ado…


Played by: Patrick Troughton
First Appearance: “Episode 4” (The Tenth Planet, 29 October, 1966) *MISSING*
Last Appearance: “Episode Ten” (The War Games, 21 June, 1969)—although there is also a later guest appearance in The Two Doctors, alongside the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) in 1985
Episodes: 119
Serials: 21
Seasons: ~ 2.7
Style: “Cosmic Hobo”
Catchphrase: “Oh, my giddy aunt!”

Characteristics: Impish yet paternal, irritable yet kindly, deceptive when it’s called for (it’s apparently always called for) and with an absolute genius for playing dumb, the Second Doctor can perhaps be best described as House meets Columbo meets… well, the Eleventh Doctor, whom we are told was lovingly modeled after him. The Second Doctor’s almost constant mugging for the camera can be disconcerting, and his capering gait rather puts one in mind of a court jester—he’s also very shouty—but he is also passionate, considerate, valiant and really quite adorable in his ill-fitting suit, that scheming twinkle in his dark, fathomless eyes.

Companions: After inheriting Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben (Michael Craze) from his former personality, the Second Doctor goes on to recruit 18th-C Scottish piper Jamie (Frazer Hines), adopts wilting Victorian orphan Victoria (Deborah Watling) and is blessed with stowaway future astrophysicist Zoe (Wendy Padbury). Some claim Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) as his companion as well, but given he rarely travelled with the Doctor, whether in this or any later incarnation, I have long disputed this status.


Note: There is not a single serial from the Second Doctor’s debut season here, considering these grim facts: The Power of the Daleks (6 episodes, all missing), The Highlanders (4 episodes, all missing), The Underwater Menace (4 episodes, 1 & 4 missing), The Moonbase (4 episodes, 1 & 3 missing), The Macra Terror (4 episodes, all missing), The Faceless Ones (6 episodes, 2 & 4–6 missing) and The Evil of the Daleks (7 episodes, 1 & 3–7 missing).

Of these, I would like to think that The Highlanders (the last pure “historical” episode, and the first appearance of Jamie) would have made the cut, and I would also hope that The Faceless Ones (a farewell to Polly and Ben!) might have been a contender as well.

But as it stands…


Second Doctor, Doctor Who, Tomb of the Cybermen

1. THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, Season 5, Episodes 1-4
Written by: Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
Directed by: Morris Barry
Setting: The planet Talos
4 Episodes: “Episode 1” (September 2, 1967), “Episode 2” (September 9, 1967), “Episode 3” (September 16, 1967), “Episode 4” (September 23, 1967)

If it weren’t for the simple fact that this is the earliest complete serial of the Second Doctor’s reign, this one would most assuredly not be here. There are much, much better Cybermen outings—for evidence, see below—and, moreover, the addition here of that witless drip, Victoria, as companion is nothing to be celebrated. Nevertheless, this serial is as notable for its place in Whovian mythology as it is for being an unintentionally hilarious attempt at a homage/rip-off of The Mummy. To wit: for twenty years, Tomb of the Cybermen was believed to have been a lost masterpiece, a serial so good, so transformative, that were it to have remained in existence, surely it would have brought about a Golden Age of Awesomeness—the TV equivalent of Wyld Stallyns’ music. But then, in the early 1990s, it resurfaced, and those who remembered it so fondly as the greatest work the BBC ever aired were given a salutary lesson in the illusive power of rose-colored glasses. Because it’s backward, racist, dull, nonsensical and really not very good at all; still certainly worth the neophyte’s time, however, if only to hold its once-revered status over the heads of smug pre-reboot fans. (That said, bonus points must be awarded for the Brotherhood of Logicians, to whom logic is apparently a foreign concept. I appreciate them utterly, being a card-carrying member of the Society of Ironicists.)

EXPLAINED! More Cybermen back story.


Second Doctor, Doctor Who, The Ice Warriors

2. THE ICE WARRIORS, Season 5, Episode 11-16
Written by: Brian Hayles
Directed by: Derek Martinus
Setting: Britain, the distant future, an ice age
6 Episodes: “One” (November 11, 1967), “Two” (November 18, 1967) *MISSING*, “Three” (November 25, 1967) *MISSING*, “Four” (December 2, 1967), “Five” (December 9, 19667)

Admittedly only a partially-complete fifth season adventure, but since it a) features the first appearance of the titular Ice Warriors and b) has undergone an heroic animated reconstruction process, using the original audio, it would be remiss of me not to include this decidedly thrilling Mars Attacks the Future! story here. I know, “thrilling” is a big word to be throwing around early Whodom, especially when the tiresome Victoria is still along for the ride. But with an encroaching glacier, a defrosted alien menace, a pretty fair stab at future gender equality—at least as good as its contemporary, Star Trek, anyway—and an intriguing freedom vs. technology debate, The Ice Warriors is terrifically engaging right from its Theremin-heavy opening credits, and is a thoroughly satisfying Doctorly outing.

EXPLAINED! That enormous lizard-looking warrior faced by the Doctor and Clara in “Cold War” (7×08)—and perhaps why that plot seemed so much like Das Boot meets Encino Man.


Second Doctor, Doctor Who, The Mind Robber

3. THE MIND ROBBER, Season 6, Episodes 6-10
Written by: Peter Ling
Directed by: David Maloney
Setting: The Void! AKA the Land of Fiction
5 Episodes: “Episode 1” (September 14, 1968), “Episode 2” (September 21, 1968), “Episode 3” (September 28, 1968), “Episode 4” (October 5, 1967), “Episode 5” (October 12, 1967)

Oh, I could go on and on and on about The Mind Robber. It is without a doubt my favorite Second Doctor serial, and is Top 10 overall, as well. It is the kind of episode that is best to have come at you as a totally enchanting surprise, however, so let me just make mention of a few tales it brings to mind, and leave it at that: Thursday Next. Once Upon a Time. The TNG episode “Q Who?” The Farscape episode “John Quixote.” Recent Hugo-winner Redshirts. I think you get the gist; consider this kind of proto-meta, especially in the slyly clever manner in which Frazer Hines is casually replaced as Jamie in two episodes, due to a case of the chicken pox. Go, watch, love. Oh, and enjoy the blissful absence of the histrionic Victoria, who has (oh, frabjous day!) been replaced by that super-awesome super-cute super-genius, Zoe. (Yes. I really like Zoe.)

EXPLAINED! The Doctor’s fascination with the Master (maybe, anyway… and only if you really retcon it.)


Second Doctor, Doctor Who, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, The Invasion

4. THE INVASION, Season 6, Episodes 11-18
Story by: Kit Pedler
Written by: Derrick Sherwin
Directed by: Douglas Camfield
Setting: Mid-70’s (so, the future!) London
8 Episodes: “Episode One” (November 2, 1968) *MISSING*, “Episode Two” (November 9, 1968), “Episode Three” (November 16, 1968), “Episode Four” (November 23, 1968) *MISSING*, “Episode Five” (November 30, 1968), “Episode Six” (December 7, 1968), “Episode Seven” (December 14, 1968), “Episode Eight” (December 21, 1968)

I have to be honest with you. As terrific as The Invasion is—and it is; this is an early serial actually deserving of the multitudes of praise down the years—I almost didn’t include it here, in favor of its immediate successor, which holds a special place in my heart. However, to suggest that this particular Second Doctor story is non-essential (and that The Krotons, much as I adore it, is) is akin to recommending someone skip the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seasons 2 and 3 in favor of, say, “Beer Bad” and that one where the burgers are people. It would be wrong. Possibly even actionable. So, instead, I will join the congregation and sing the praises of this fan favorite, the first incomplete serial to receive the animated-recreation treatment and, to many minds, the finest outing of the Cybermen. That said, though, despite the fact that they are at the heart of the titular incursion, the fearsome silver cyborgs put in a very late appearance here (indeed, their involvement must have come as an unnerving surprise to anyone who didn’t first encounter the DVD cover), and we mostly treat with a rather sinister electronics company and its oddly, one might even say suspiciously, dispassionate director. This story also features the first appearance of UNIT (UNified Intelligence Taskforce), of which we learn that Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart—met previously in the mostly-missing serial The Web of Fear and now a Brigadier—is in charge, paving the way much later for Torchwood, for which we can only be thankful.

EXPLAINED! Exactly how one becomes a Cyberman; the origins of UNIT.


Second Doctor, Doctor Who, The War Games

5. THE WAR GAMES, Season 6, Episodes 35-44
Written by: Malcolm Hulke & Terrance Dicks
Directed by: David Maloney
Setting: An unnamed planet; Gallifrey (though also unnamed here)
10 Episodes: “Episode One” (April 19, 1969), “Episode Two” (April 26, 1969), “Episode Three” (May 3, 1969), “Episode Four” (May 10, 1969), “Episode Five” (May 17, 1969), “Episode Six” (May 24, 1969), “Episode Seven” (May 31, 1969), “Episode Eight” (June 7, 1969), “Episode Nine” (June 14, 1969), “Episode Ten” (June 21, 1969).

This 10-episode serial feels like it should be two different story arcs: one, the compelling overthrow of a power-mad dictator who plans to take over the galaxy by winnowing out the weakest of his kidnapped fighting force; and two, the trial of the Doctor (and his compatriot, complicit in the war games) for crimes against their race, finally given a name here: the Time Lords. The former story is rife with action, as warriors from across time—Ancient Rome, US Civil War, WWI, etc.—are forced to compete for the right to be the villain’s foot soldiers. Quite why a force from pre-atomic Earth would be so desirable to an alien overlord isn’t sufficiently explained, to my mind; still, doubtless it helped with the costume budget. But for all that The War Gamesy-bit is cool, it is really the latter part of the story that most matters, as the Doctor is held accountable by his people for (it turns out) stealing the TARDIS/ meddling in history, and is thence exiled to Earth—and with a forced regeneration at that. Moreover, this episode also stands as a farewell to Jamie (longest-serving companion ever, with 113 consecutive episodes to his name) and Zoe (her voyages tragically curtailed, after only 50), after the Time Lords wipe their memories of all the cosmic coolness they have seen and return them to their own timelines, making sure they don’t encounter the Doctor at all. Which means Zoe is back bumbling around in the library of a 21st-C space station and Jamie is back battling the English in his native Highlands. Just… great.

EXPLAINED! The Doctor’s race, its customs and laws, and its bizarre penal code.


Of course, were it still in existence, naturally the fifth season serial The Fury from the Deep would totally have made this list, since it features the first appearance of the sonic screwdriver. On the other hand, I am not entirely sure what I would cut… I bet you are, though! Have at it.

Next Time: The Third Doctor—The Debonair Scientist

Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.


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