Classic Doctor Who on BritBox: The Second Doctor’s surviving serials
Mark Harrison | On 27, Feb 2023
Offering 626 Doctor Who episodes broadcast between 1963 and 1996, BritBox is bigger on the inside. If you’ve watched all of the new series already, then why not join us as we turn on the TARDIS randomiser for a monthly primer on the adventures of the first eight Doctors…
It’s the age-old question – if you could travel back in time to any point in history, when would you choose? As nerdy as an answer as it might be, fans of Doctor Who’s second incarnation might choose to rescue some long-lost serials originally broadcast between 1966 and 1969.
As discussed in our Doctor Who columns before, the BBC’s careless policy of wiping tapes for reuse means that swathes of 1960s serials are either incomplete or entirely missing. And of the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, the latter’s tenure was far more affected.
In total, just seven of Troughton’s serials exist in the BBC archives with complete sound and vision. The actor’s reputation as one of the best Doctors speaks to how impressive he is in the surviving serials. And as lovely as some of the other faithfully animated and reconstructed episodes are, they’re undeniably limited in their adaptations of his performance by comparison to existing footage.
So, if you want to see Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor in action properly, these seven serials are the ones you’ll want to watch, and they’re all streaming on BritBox. We’d recommend the animations and reconstructions on there too, but if you’re looking for a starter guide to a well-regarded era, here’s what to watch. And remember, when he says “run”, run… RUN!
The Tomb Of The Cybermen (Season 5, 1967)
“Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing! Because nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.”
During Troughton’s era, the series’ historical outings of previous seasons fell away, and the sci-fi base-under-siege format became Doctor Who’s bread and butter. His second season kicked off with The Tomb of the Cybermen, which inverts the formula by having the humans trying to break into the aliens’ gaff for once.
The Season 5 opener’s reputation has grown since the serial was returned to the BBC in the early 1990s, and it’s almost as good as the hype. This iconic early Cybermen outing is clearly influenced by The Mummy and Hammer Horror films, but it’s peppered with some lovely character details between the Doctor and his companions Jamie and Victoria too.
The Enemy of the World (Season 5, 1967-8)
“People spend all their time making nice things and then other people come along and break them!”
Every once in a while, the actor playing the Doctor gets to play at being the villain too, whether it’s Tom Baker as Meglos or Matt Smith’s Cyber-Planner Mr Clever. But in the most recently recovered complete story, The Enemy of the World, the Second Doctor is recruited to impersonate despicable “shopkeeper of the world” and would-be dictator Salamander, who’s also played by Patrick Troughton.
A flagrant pastiche of the early James Bond films, this action-packed thriller pits the Doctor and friends against a Goldfinger-type with all the attendant espionage and intrigue. Out of all the surviving serials, Troughton’s performance as both the Doctor and a Mexican villain is, for better or worse, the most instructive about his work on the show.
The Dominators (Season 6, 1968)
Planning a holiday on the peaceful planet of Dulkis, the Doctor inadvertently drags Jamie and Zoe into the middle of a hostile incursion by the warlike Dominators. Fortunately for Team TARDIS, instead of facing the full might of the Masters of Ten Galaxies, they’re up against jaded commander Toba (Kenneth Ives), trigger-happy probationer Rago (Ronald Allen) and a bunch of armed mining robots called Quarks.
Although Season 5 positioned the Cybermen as the new A-list baddies, the Quarks were one of several new monsters designed to have the same merchandising potential as the Daleks, while Terry Nation shopped their spin-off series to US TV networks, but this remains their only telly appearance. The Dominators draws some dry comedy out of the titular villains’ limited resources and patience, even though it gets a little repetitive across its five-episode run.
The Mind Robber (Season 6, 1968)
“Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.”
Following directly on from the climax of The Dominators, the TARDIS’ emergency systems take the ship beyond reality itself. Stranded in the Land of Fiction, the travellers encounter White Robots, an array of fantastical characters, and the Master – not THAT one, but a different character, brilliantly played by Emrys Jones.
There are lots of Doctor Who stories that were affected by behind-the-scenes problems, but few styled them out as well as this. Whether it’s the addition of a psychological-horror bottle episode set entirely in the TARDIS or its bravura solution to Frazer Hines being too ill to film Episode 2, The Mind Robber’s surreal tone turns all shortcomings into strengths. It’s probably as psychedelic as Doctor Who ever gets in its black-and-white era.
The Krotons (Season 6, 1968-9)
“Great jumping gobstoppers!”
Marking Classic Who maestro Robert Holmes’ first scripts for the series, The Krotons is a story about a race of crystalline robot overlords who teach the natives on a distant planet but then harvest the mental power of their best and brightest as energy. When the Second Doctor and Zoe are designated as “high brains”, they must rally the enslaved Gond people to rise up against their masters.
The Krotons are this season’s second bunch of Dalek-a-likes, big robots enslaving humans and “dispersing” them with death rays if they transgress. However, it comes at a point in the show when the BBC budget wasn’t stretching to cover new monster costumes, even though the monsters were the most popular part of the show, so the execution falters. Holmes’ scripts would improve later on too.
The Seeds of Death (Season 6, 1969)
“You can’t kill me, I’m a genius!”
One solution to the limited creature budget was to revisit existing aliens, including the Ice Warriors, who had been introduced in a Season 5 serial (available on BritBox but with a still-photo reconstruction of the missing third episode). Their comeback takes place between Earth and the Moon in the 21st century, with the Martian meanies exploiting humanity’s dependence on transmat technology to launch a terraforming mission.
Not to be confused with 1975’s The Seeds of Doom, this often-underappreciated outing by Brian Hayles has a few dialogue gems (like the one above) and some foamy effects work that puts the “fun” in its all-consuming fungus – eat your heart out, The Last of Us. Plus, the Ice Warriors get a bit more development this time around, and the serial itself is a prime example of how Doctor Who advanced its formula over the Troughton era.
The War Games (Season 6, 1969)
“The Time Lords are an immensely civilised race.”
All things considered, we’re very fortunate that the Second Doctor’s regeneration story is available in its entirety – not only because it’s such a landmark serial, but also because it’s a whopping 10 episodes long. Co-written by Malcolm Hulke and script editor Terrance Dicks, The War Games takes place on a planet where aliens use abducted human soldiers to simulate Earth conflicts, in preparation to conquer the galaxy.
With a massive cast and an epic scope, this is the Second Doctor’s swan song and also a poignant finale for trusty companions Jamie and Zoe. As the climactic episodes pivot to an exploration of the Doctor’s origins and his original departure from his home planet, the story sums up this incarnation’s crusade against unfairness throughout time and space. It also propels Doctor Who to the end of its 1960s black-and-white era and tees up a spell of Earthbound adventures…
Further viewing: The lost season
Of the episodes that are still missing from the BBC archives, Troughton’s first season (Season 4, 1966) is by far the most affected, with 28 out of 38 Second Doctor episodes still lost. Happily, many of these episodes have been animated or reconstructed for DVD release and later added to BritBox.
Entirely animated stories include The Power of the Daleks, in which Ben, Polly and a newly regenerated Doctor fend off some suspiciously friendly pepper-pots; The Macra Terror, an underrated gem that introduces the crab-like controllers of an outer-space gas refinery; and The Faceless Ones, a contemporary adventure set at Gatwick Airport, which we’ve previously reviewed here.
Other Season 4 stories have a mix of surviving episodes and reconstructed instalments, ranging from The Moonbase, a Cyberman-centric base-under-siege classic, to The Underwater Menace, a trip to Atlantis in which Joseph Furst’s mad scientist Professor Zaroff famously proclaims: “Nothing in the world can stop me now!”
The very influential season finale, The Evil of the Daleks, has also had all seven episodes animated and released on home media, but this one’s yet to appear on BritBox – we’ll be sure to cover it if it turns up, so watch this space!