As you may remember, I embarked on a read-through of my Doctor Who book collection last November. After starting at a fairly fast pace, which I more or less maintained throughout the first Doctor’s stories, I have been taking things somewhat more slowly of late (and reading / doing lots of other, unrelated stuff too) but the project is still ongoing.
I have now reached the end of the second Doctor’s tenure, having finished reading The War Games yesterday. I think in many respects, the transition from this story to the next one (Spearhead from Space – novelised as The Auton Invasion) is probably the single biggest point of change within the series, at least the classic run (and arguably including the new series as well).
Changes of Doctor (and to a lesser extent, changes of companion) always signal a bit of a change in the feel of the show. The change from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (which, incidentally was described as a renewal rather than a regeneration – I don’t think that term actually got used, at least not officially, until Tom Baker replaced Jon Pertwee) was a significant milestone as it established that the Doctor could change his body (i.e. the lead actor could be replaced) and the show could go on.
In terms of the change in the Doctor’s character, or his style, I don’t think the change from Troughton to Pertwee was particularly more marked than the previous change, or for that matter, any of the later ones. The fact that there was a complete change of companions at the same time, a fairly unusual occurrence (indeed, unique in the original series), but this too was only a relatively minor contribution to the difference between seasons 6 (the final Troughton season) and 7 (the first Pertwee one).
Another change at this point was the switch from filming and broadcasting in black and white to colour. This is, of course, more significant (or certainly more obvious) in the TV series than in the novels. However, and I think it was largely due to the differing technical constraints and possibilities of the two media, it did definitely have quite a big impact on the kinds of stories they told and the way they told them. For one thing, the pace of the storytelling definitely seemed to pick up somewhat once Doctor Who was being made in colour (although probably not so significantly as when the new series started). Other than that, it’s difficult to quantify precisely what the difference is but there is definitely quite a different feel to the black and white episodes.
I think, though, that the single biggest change was the introduction of the Time Lords, which happened during The War Games (where they were mentioned fairly early in the story and featured heavily in the final episode or two). Previously there had been strong hints, and it had perhaps even been stated outright, that the Doctor was not human and was a fugitive from his own people. However, it was left entirely mysterious who his own people were. One of them, known as the Meddling Monk, appeared in a couple of stories with the first Doctor (initially in The Time Meddler, about which I wrote previously, and then in The Daleks’ Master Plan) but, although he too had a TARDIS, neither he nor the Doctor were identified as Time Lords. All of a sudden, in The War Games, we get to see the society that the Doctor had run from and which has now caught up with him. From this point on there will be very frequent references to the Time Lords, and not infrequent appearances by them, as well as a gradual unfolding of quite a lot more details about the Doctor’s alien nature.
There is still plenty of mystery about the Doctor after this, but it’s never going to be quite the same as it was with Hartnell and Troughton.
I am slightly sad to have reached this point in the stories, as it means bidding farewell to Zoe, who has long been my favourite companion (more for her potential than for what they actually did with the character, although I always thought she had a particularly lovely smile). Still, we have Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith, two of my other favourites, coming up soon, so it’s not all bad.
Incidentally, although the TV series goes straight from The War Games to Spearhead From Space, there have been several extra-canonical works shoehorned into the gap between them (despite the fact that one effectively finishes with the Time Lords forcing a regeneration onto the Doctor and exiling him to Earth, while the other begins with his arrival there). I have got one of these, a novel called World Game (by Terrance Dicks – surely the most prolific Doctor Who author of all time, as well as having been the script editor at this point in the TV series’ history), which explains that the Doctor was actually employed by the Time Lords as a secret agent for a while before his exile began (and that the exile was a commutation of the death sentence in return for this service, with the official history as presented by the TV and the novelisations having suppressed the truth). I’ve only just started reading this novel for the first time but it seems fairly promising so far.