Back here in 1967 televisions weren’t as reliable as they would become so despite my repeated thumping on the box I’ve been unable to get a picture since last October. And would you believe it, that coincides with all the episodes of Doctor Who which are missing from the archives in 2017! Cah, typical! So it might not come as a great surprise to you that this week my TV screen has suddenly flickered into life. And look: it’s Patrick Troughton as the new Dr Who! And now I can see Jamie too! Seeing this episode after so much audio has made me realise how much I must have missed out on, as watching Troughton is a very different experience to hearing a few lines from him. There have not really been any lengthy chunks of dialogue or great speeches from the new Doctor so it’s not easy to get a solid impression of the man. But I’m pleased to say he’s a joy to watch. I should also mention that this is genuinely the first time I’ve seen this episode.
So Polly is about to be turned into a fish. The surgeons are making a bit of a meal of things (a fish pie or something perhaps), and two minutes in they still haven’t started. In Zaroff’s lab I notice the Doctor is standing almost in a Hartnell pose with his hands near his lapels. Was this a deliberate emulation I wonder? His expression as he ‘accidentally’ sabotages the power circuit is hilarious! After my comment above about a scarecity of Doctor dialogue in recent episodes, he’s making up for it this week, and his scene with Zaroff, alternately flattering then humouring him is marvellous. Warning him of the danger involved in raising Atlantis by draining the sea water into the Earth Zaroff is not remotely phased. He is like a Bond villain with his mad plan, his mad accent and his obsession with his pet fish, but his motivation is a novelty for Doctor Who: as far as I can recall there hasn’t been a villain who wants to destroy the world…just for fun! In fact I think the only other mad ranting supervillain we’ve had was Mavic Chen.
Polly is freed by the (slightly wooden) servant girl Ara. Ben and Jamie have been sent to work in the mine. Their grumbling about the food is at odds with the Doctors reaction to his meal last week. I presume slave workers aren’t treated to Zaroff’s marvellous cuisine but get the left overs.
I’m pretty certain there’s another first for the programme here: ridiculous sci-fi headgear! Unless you count Barbara/Yetaxa’s ceremonial outfit in The Aztecs. But this priest’s hat is ludicrously elaborate! The hat belongs to Ramo, and I suppose the design is fittingly aquatic-plantlike.
Finally I get to watch the Doctor playing his recorder. He tells Ramo about Zaroff’s plan, giving him a mini science lesson by way of explanation (I’m sure Sidney Newman would approve) and so Ramo smuggles the Doctor into the council chamber to meet Thous. And talking of the elaborate headgear the Doctor’s joy at getting another chance to dress up and put on a new hat is a delight! Something I’d have missed without the pictures.
I love the bit where the Doctor informs Thous that Zaroff is raving bonkers. “Have you noticed his eyes?…As mad as a hatter.” Tapping his head…pause…quizzical look…”no answer! Sad!” He was very diplomatic though, praising the professor’s achievements first, before laying into him.
Thous considers the Doctor’s words, and meanwhile Polly is reunited with Ben and Jamie. Having had a think, Thous has come to a decision. He has a surprise for the Doctor and Ramo. Flinging open the door he reveals Professor Zaroff (“Do with them what you will”).
As I said last week, I reaslise that these episodes are unlikely to be among many people’s favourites, but watching Doctor Who once a week again I’m really savouring each episode, so even the weaker ones are enjoyable. And it was a real treat getting to see moving pictures again, not to mention a chance to see what the Doctor and Jamie look like.